Sep 13th, 2012
Reuters – With Suu Kyi’s help, Myanmar inches towards investment law
Reuters – Myanmar minister says foreign investment law ready soon
Reuters – Insight: Disconnected for decades, Myanmar poised for telecoms boom
AP – Myanmar students join protest against land seizure
AFP – Hundreds stage sit-in protest against Myanmar mine
UPI – Myanmar moves closer to more press freedom
PR Newswire – Myanmar: The new automotive hotspot
PRWeb – Backyard Travel Sets the Trend with Luxury Cruises through Southeast Asia
The Nation – Boom in commercial vehicles seen in Myanmar
The Nation – Over the Myanmar moon
MinnPost.com – The return of “Made in Myanmar” to US closets
Bernama – Myanmar, Japan To Hold Workshop On Satellite Launching
The Irrawaddy – NLD Legal Advice Team a Big Hit
The Irrawaddy – Govt Invites KIO to Naypyidaw
The Irrawaddy – US-Burma Military Ties ‘Would Push Reform’
Mizzima News – Obama should meet with Suu Kyi and Thein Sein: report
Mizzima News – Cease-fire ‘only with Naypyitaw’ not with Burmese army: SSA
Mizzima News – 88-Generation students, KNPP to work together to create ‘Union’ gov’t
DVB News – Freed copper mine protesters assaulted by police
With Suu Kyi’s help, Myanmar inches towards investment law
By Jason Szep and Aung Hla Tun | Reuters – 13 hrs ago
NAYPYITAW (Reuters) – A law intended to accelerate foreign investment in Myanmar will be signed soon by the president after pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi helped kill a clause that would have protected crony businessmen, a government minister said on Wednesday.
The long-delayed foreign investment law, passed by parliament last week and now awaiting approval by President Thein Sein, is widely expected to clear the way for an increase in foreign investment by companies such as Coca-Cola Co in the resource-rich country that emerged only last year from 49 years of military rule.
Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning opposition leader, joined other lawmakers in opposing a proposal that would have forced foreign companies to invest at least $5 million of start-up capital to do business in Myanmar, said Soe Thein, a minister in the president’s office, describing her as influential in the debate.
That clause, which would have been the largest such provision in Southeast Asia, was widely seen as an attempt to protect a coterie of businessmen who prospered under military rule. It would have dramatically reduced foreign competition, especially among small businesses, if included in the new law.
“She took part in talking about the new foreign investment law and supported dropping stuff like the $5 million requirement,” Soe Thein said an interview.
Backing of the investment law marks a significant turn for Suu Kyi, who in June urged corporate executives to avoid “reckless optimism” and warned investors that “even the best investment laws would be of no use whatsoever if there are no courts that are clean enough and independent enough to be able to administer those laws justly”.
“We all our friends now,” Soe Thein, a former naval commander-in-chief and senior member of the ruling military-backed party, said of the pro-democracy leader, who spent 15 years detained at home by the former ruling generals.
He said the law would probably be approved soon, although it was unclear if it would be signed before the president and Suu Kyi visit the United States, scheduled for later this month.
Resource-rich Myanmar is opening up to the world after nearly 50 years of military rule and economic stagnation.
Western countries have lifted or suspended sanctions since a quasi-civilian government took over last year but most firms are waiting to see details of the investment law, which was held up in parliament for five months as proposed changes went back and forth between the assembly and the president’s office.
A FINAL FRONTIER
Among other companies that have expressed interest in investing in Myanmar, one of Asia’s last frontier markets, are hotelier Marriott International Inc, car makers Suzuki Motor Corp and Ford Motor Co plus tech firms Panasonic Corp and Toshiba Corp.
But many executives say they want regulatory clarity in a market dominated for decades by tycoons with ties to powerful generals, a tightly knit circle of cronies who face competitive threats as the government liberalizes the economy.
Soe Thein was speaking on the sidelines of an investment conference held by Euromoney magazine in the capital, Naypyitaw, where the new law was hotly debated.
The latest draft raises the maximum share foreign companies can hold in 13 restricted sectors by one percentage point to 50 percent, retaining a protectionist flavor by capping foreign investment in several important industries.
Serge Pun, chairman of SPA Group, a Myanmar investment company whose holdings range from real estate to financial services, sees that as a mistake, illustrating the difficulties the government faces in one of its most important pieces of legislation.
“My question is very simple. If it is a restricted industry where we feel it should be kept in the hands of Myanmar nationals, then the government must be very clear-cut that the foreigner must be minority,” he said.
He also believed the 13 industries were vaguely defined.
“Some of them are specific and some of them are general, so is it really 13, or is it 13 that covers maybe another 35?”
The restrictions could cause confusion if 50-50 control meant decisions were deadlocked, Pun said. “Who’s actually going to have the big say? That is the problem.”
Myanmar minister says foreign investment law ready soon
Reuters – 20 hrs ago
NAYPYITAW (Reuters) – A new foreign investment law should be promulgated in Myanmar soon, a senior minister said on Wednesday, after lawmakers compromised on certain proposals that were opposed by President Thein Sein who is keen to attract foreign companies.
International firms are lining up to enter Myanmar, which has opened up fast since a military regime gave way 18 months ago to the quasi-civilian government led by Thein Sein.
Western countries have lifted or suspended sanctions but most firms are waiting to see details of the investment law, which was held up in parliament for five months as proposed changes went back and forth between the assembly and the president’s office.
Lawmakers approved the latest draft on September 7 and sent it back to Thein Sein for approval.
“I don’t think there should be a problem. The president needs to review it. It should be ready soon,” Soe Thein, a minister in the president’s office, told Reuters.
Soe Thein was industry minister until promoted in late August to the president’s office along with other close allies of Thein Sein. He was speaking on the sidelines of a big investment forum in the capital, Naypyitaw.
The minister’s comment will soothe fears that further wrangling could delay the law until parliament reconvenes for its next session in late October.
The law as passed by parliament has not been published.
However, lawmakers have said one big change was the dropping of a proposed requirement for foreign investors to put in $5 million in start-up capital when setting up joint ventures with local partners.
Some of the changes proposed by parliament were deemed protectionist by presidential aides, who argued they would scare off foreign companies, to the benefit of the crony capitalists who dominated Myanmar’s economy under the junta and remain a force.
An earlier draft had also put restrictions on 13 sectors including manufacturing, farming, agriculture and fisheries, limiting foreign firms to a maximum 49 percent of any investment there. One lawmaker said that had been altered to 50 percent.
Sources had earlier told Reuters Thein Sein wanted the start-up capital requirement dropped and the maximum foreign stake in joint ventures increased.
Insight: Disconnected for decades, Myanmar poised for telecoms boom
Reuters – 56 minutes ago
By Martin Petty
YANGON (Reuters) – Blackberrys and iPhones aren’t much use in Myanmar, where its only network is frequently jammed, data services are scarce, prices extortionate, lines crackly and most phones don’t roam. For decades, its telecoms industry has been a shambles.
It’s no surprise this country of 60 million people has the world’s second-lowest cellphone penetration after North Korea; SIM cards are made prohibitively pricey to prevent its tiny network from becoming overloaded, while emailing and web-surfing on phones is so rare it’s almost a bourgeois concept.
Even getting hooked up to the network is cumbersome. Visitors must rent SIM cards at the airport on arrival while many Burmese can only afford one-time SIMs with a number that expires after a few days when its $20 of credit runs out.
But as Myanmar races ahead with economic reforms, the telecoms sector, riven with graft and mismanagement and lagging behind even Asia’s poorest countries, is on the verge of a major shake-up as part of a “reform plan” to liberalize one of the world’s last remaining greenfield telcos markets.
Details of the plan are scant, but Myanmar appears to have finally got its act together and insiders say it could announce its plans this week.
Eager to attract foreign investors to one of Asia’s poorest countries, the government could make telecoms the first sector to be liberalized. After a year of stumbling and opaque deals that favored vested local interests, speed and transparency now appear to be the priority.
“We’re going to finish it soon, we really cannot wait,” Kyaw Soe, a senior official at the Ministry of Communications, Posts and Telegraphs, told Reuters. “It’s closely related to economic growth of our nation, so this is a priority sector.”
Last month, 11 companies from 10 countries, including Japan, Australia, Germany and the United States, were short-listed from 64 applicants to become consultants and prepare a telecoms license tender. The list is now down to three.
Kyaw Soe said a total of four operating licenses would be granted; two for Myanmar companies and two for foreign firms, with 4G services targeted as early as 2013.
A regulator would be formed and state-owned Myanmar Post and Telecommunication — the country’s sole operator — would be privatized to form the Myanmar Telecoms Company (MTC), which would be awarded one of the cellphone licenses, he said. Another would go to Internet service provider Yataraporn Teleport.
A Myanmar telecoms source said it was unlikely the two local firms had the resources to operate alone and would likely form joint ventures, but it was unclear whether more than two foreign firms would be allowed to operate.
Myanmar’s low penetration and the hunger for going mobile in a virtually untapped country are mouth-watering prospects for international telecoms firms.
Usage is extremely low, at just 1.24 percent of the population in 2010, compared with 64 percent in Laos, 57 percent in Cambodia and more than 100 percent in Thailand and Malaysia where individual ownership of multiple phones pushes usage above population levels, according to the Asian Development Bank. The Myanmar government says the current level is 5.6 percent, but experts doubt that.
“The potential is clear to see, but whether that is realized depends on regulation,” said Ramakrishna Maruvada, regional head of telecom research at Daiwa Capital Markets. “The problem for foreign firms is there’s very little detail in terms of timelines and structure, so very little to hang on to.”
Among companies that have confirmed an interest in Myanmar are Sweden’s TeliaSonera AB, and two specialists in emerging Asian markets, Malaysia’s Axiata and Norway’s Telenor, which both operate in Thailand, Malaysia, Pakistan and Bangladesh, among others.
“When this opens up, the potential is so big, so we’ll expect a lot of interest. There’s not many of these markets left in the world,” said Telenor Group’s Glenn Mandelid.
“If they get the framework in place and there’s security for our investment and all the clarity we need… then we’ll be interested.”
One firm that may have an advantage is Digicel, which operates in 31 countries and has already presented a technical and commercial assessment to the government on how to expand the network to reach the majority of the population within two years.
“We’ve developed a strong track record on the ground and an excellent knowledge of the needs of the government, consumers and businesses,” said Frank O’Carroll, Digicel’s vice-president of business development for Asia-Pacific.
“If we get an opportunity to invest in the telecoms sector in Myanmar, we’re ready to deploy very, very quickly.”
Singapore’s SingTel is reported to be interested but told Reuters it would not comment on rumors.
On the ground, things have already started to improve. In response to complaints, prepaid SIMs were reduced from as high as $1,000 a year ago to $250 in some states and made available in Yangon in April
That means people like Thandar Tun, who has three phones on a foldable table offering call services for 25 kyats (3 U.S. cents) a minute are seeing business slip away.
A year ago, about 100 people a day used her phones. She has about 30 today as SIM prices fall and GSM, CDMA 800 and 450 MHz handsets have become status symbols.
“We can see people are slowly changing the way they use phones,” Thandar Tun said.
Demand is now soaring and phone shops are fast popping up in Yangon. Inundated with requests, banks have halted loans for prepaid SIMs, which dealers say are now being rationed because MPT’s network can’t cope.
“We get only 50 SIM cards a week, but people come in asking every day or calling to see when they’ll be available,” said Aye Myat Moe, sales manager at one branch of E-Lite Tech, a company owned by Tay Za, a Burmese billionaire blacklisted by Western governments because of his ties to the former military junta.
But the devil is in the detail, and those companies lining up to invest are playing a careful game, awaiting regulatory clarity, aware of the catalogue of errors that have taken place in the past 18 months, even as the quasi-civilian government embarked on astonishing political and economic reforms.
Its telecoms policy has been perplexing at best, with no clear plan on how to finance expansion of the network, even though a telecoms law 10 years in the making had already been drafted in cooperation with the International Telecoms Union.
The ministry took the bizarre decision to start expansion even before completing the draft of the new law. In April last year, it announced it would create 30 million new GSM lines by 2016, in cooperation with local firms, some with ties to the former military regime, starting with four million lines to reach 10 percent of the population within a year.
But there have been scant signs of progress, with 23 local companies installing towers and base stations, in return for SIM cards and licenses to sell handsets for use on a tiny network.
A Myanmar telecoms industry expert, who requested anonymity, described the government’s approach until now as a “disaster” and said it was crucial the new regulation benefited investors, consumers and the government.
“FLAWED” LAW RECALLED
Two other sources with close knowledge said the government realized its mistakes this July, when a revised law sent to President Thein Sein was quietly recalled because it was “deeply flawed”.
A senior government official said Thein Sein wants to implement reforms fast, aware of the proven links between telecoms expansion and GDP growth and the urgent need for transparency in a crucial sector.
Expansion and liberalization would not only create thousands of jobs in a country with chronic unemployment, but it would also allow for mobile money services, like transferring cash that could be collected by a relative in rural areas by showing a simple text message.
“It’s not just phones, it’s other cross-cutting factors. It’s also very important for financial and people-centered development,” said the source, requesting anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media. “It’s taken time because we want a healthy level of competition and we want to make sure we get this right.”
Clarity on regulation and the tender process is imminent, according to ministry officials, but many questions remain, particularly those regarding financing.
Myanmar is understood to have been offered substantial foreign loans for telecoms development but has not said if it plans to fund any of the expansion — estimated at $2 billion — which allow the state to extract revenue from operators.
Experts warn that if private firms finance network expansion, urban centers would have priority over rural areas — the government’s key target — and operators would be reluctant to share infrastructure.
The World Bank, which has given technical assistance to the telecoms ministry, urged the government to take a balanced approach and send the right message to foreign firms in what could be the first major sector to open up.
“It’s important for the government to ensure a stable policy and regulatory framework is established so it encourages credible, world class investors to enter the market and provide citizens with affordable and high quality services,” its office in Myanmar told Reuters.
“This is an important opportunity for Myanmar to demonstrate to the world that the country is open and ready for business.”
Myanmar students join protest against land seizure
Associated Press – 15 hrs ago
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Students have joined farmers and other people who have been protesting the seizure of land for a copper mining project in northwestern Myanmar jointly owned by the military and a Chinese company.
The protest in Monywa in Sagaing region has been continuing since August, but expanded this week in response to the detention of its leaders, activists said Wednesday. The primary issue concerns the confiscation of nearly 8,000 acres (3,250 hectares) of land for the Monywa copper mine project, an area which includes 26 villages and several mountains.
Some 20 students from Mandalay city joined a march of as many as 1,500 people on Tuesday after 12 protesters were arrested the day before, said a member of the Monywa Open Society activist group who asked not to be named because he feared official pressure.
Land rights activist Win Cho in Yangon said Wednesday that nine people have since been released but three female protest leaders remain in custody. Another activist who came from Yangon was detained earlier.
The Monywa Open Society activist said members of the “88 Generation” group — activists from a failed 1988 student uprising who have formed an independent political pressure group — came to Monywa on Wednesday to help mediate.
Emboldened by Myanmar’s changing political climate, farmers, villagers, factory workers and others are now staging demonstrations in various parts of the country over issues ranging from land confiscation to electricity cuts.
President Thein Sein has initiated reforms since taking office in March last year after almost 50 years of repressive army rule. Political reforms have been accompanied by economic liberalization, including privatization measures.
The copper mine, about 25 kilometers (15 miles) west of Monywa, is jointly operated by China’s Wan Bao Mining and the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd.
Wan Bao Mining, a subsidiary of China North Industrial Corp., an arms manufacturer, bought its 50 percent stake from the Canadian mining company Ivanhoe.
The deal was concluded while Myanmar was still under military rule and avoided legislative oversight because there was no parliament at the time.
Win Cho said the farmers were unhappy because their compensation covers the leasing of their land for three years, while the project covers a 60-year period.
The situation is complicated because in some cases the land was transferred a few years ago and confiscated or purchased by different parties including the military holding company, government ministries and private business tycoons, though the farmers were allowed to continue to use it.
“Farmers now know that they can exercise their citizens’ rights under the new constitution,” Win Cho said.
Farmers and villagers have been demanding the return of some confiscated land, an end to forced relocation, adequate compensation for other properties and a halt to the dumping of hazardous waste, Win Cho said.
Hundreds stage sit-in protest against Myanmar mine
AFP September 13, 2012, 12:23 am
YANGON (AFP) – Hundreds of Myanmar villagers protesting a Chinese co-owned copper mine vowed to continue their fight against the project despite arrests of demonstrators and orders for the rally to move.
In a show of defiance unthinkable just last year when junta rule was replaced by a quasi-civilian government, locals in Monywa in northern Sagaing division have staged weeks of protest over alleged land grabbing and fears of environmental pollution from the mine.
“The main thing they want is an end to the Latbadaung Mountain copper mine project,” said Han Win Aung, an activist helping the villages, adding that between 300 and 600 people had been demonstrating around the project.
He said some 8,000 acres (3,200 hectares) of land had been confiscated from local farmers without consultation and in some cases without compensation.
“It is like destroying the lives of these villagers who relied on the land since they were born,” he told AFP.
Households from four entire villages will need to move to make way for the project, which will affect people from 26 villages.
Activists said about 70 people gathered at a monastery in Monywa were refusing to leave the area, despite a deadline imposed by the authorities to relocate the protest that expired earlier on Wednesday.
The demonstrators are waiting for the arrival of a delegation from the influential 88 Generation democracy campaign group, which is travelling from Yangon in the centre of the country, according to Hein Zaw Win of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) in Monywa.
Three local women remain in custody after police arrested 12 villagers at a prayer ceremony in Monywa pagoda on Monday. Another activist was arrested on August 31 and also remains in detention.
Han Win Aung said local people applied eight times for permission to rally, but were turned down.
Campaigners have issued a set of demands to the authorities, according to Hein Zaw Win.
“The first is to release the arrested three women immediately and the second demand is to go into a negotiation process regarding copper mining in their area,” he told AFP.
“We would like to ask the authorities to stop the mining there until we reach further agreement.”
The copper mine, which is a joint venture between military-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings and China’s Wanbao company, has been the subject of controversy for several months after local media reports of corruption in connection with the project.
Myanmar’s mining ministry is suing the Voice weekly newspaper over its report.
President Thein Sein’s reformist government approved a bill allowing authorised peaceful protests earlier this year. Demonstrators are required to seek permission five days in advance.
Last year, the Myanmar leader ordered the suspension of a Chinese-backed mega-dam in response to a wave of public anger.
Myanmar moves closer to more press freedom
Myanmar’s Information Minister Aung Kyi said the government wants to work with the country’s journalists to establish new press freedom laws.
Published: Sept. 12, 2012 at 6:30 AM
YANGON, Myanmar, Sept. 12 (UPI) — Myanmar’s Information Minister Aung Kyi said the government wants to work with the country’s journalists to establish new media freedom laws.
Aung Kyi, former labor minister and government liaison to pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, has been meeting with journalists in Yangon to discuss media issues, the Irrawaddy news website said.
The move comes after the government did away last month with the requirement of publications to submit their copy to a government censor before publishing them.
However, publishers must submit articles to the Information Ministry’s Press Scrutiny and Registration Department after publication to determine if publishing laws have been broken.
Aung Kyi said the Information Ministry will put together a first draft and consult with Myanmar’s journalist community before deciding on a version to be presented to Parliament.
He also said he wanted to work through the Myanmar Core Press Council that the government set up last month as its official media liaison and watchdog, the Irrawaddy report said.
“We now feel a sense of freedom,” MCPC member Ko Ko told the Irrawaddy, run by expatriate Myanmar journalists operating in Thailand. “We must start working together to write a new law and confine the 1962 law to history.”
Zaw Thet Htwe, a spokesman for the independent Committee for Freedom of the Press, said “we will need to wait and see to what extent our ideas are included.”
Myint Kyaw, general secretary for the Myanmar Journalist Network, said the MJN “hopes that a new, good, comprehensive law will come out of this.”
But the MCPC remains a controversial organization mainly because of its powers.
The main task of the 20-member council, led by a retired Supreme Court Judge, is to protect press freedoms and advise on new media laws but also ensure that journalists and publications don’t overstep their freedoms, a report by The Asian Correspondent news website said.
The MCPC will “supervise the expressions of members of the press such that their expressions are not detrimental to the interest of the people, the dignity of the state and national sovereignty,” a commentary by Zin Linn in The Asian Correspondent said.
Just how the MCPC behaves will determine its effectiveness in moving Myanmar towards more press freedom, said Zin, a former Myanmar editor who fled the military regime in 2001 and is vice president of the Burma (Myanmar) Media Association which is affiliated with the Reporters Sans Frontiers.
A potential problem with the MCPC is its remit to scrutinize imported periodicals and publications to confirm that they are in conformity with national interests, a statement from the privately owned Eleven Media Group said.
The danger is the MCPC will have a veto on publications and in effect the ability ban freedom of speech, the EMG said.
Also, MCPC members are former core executives of the junta-backed Myanmar Writers and Journalists Association, who are pro-government and have business interests in the media sector. Appointing them as press council members constitutes a conflict of interest, EMG said.
PR Newswire – Myanmar: The new automotive hotspot
Frost & Sullivan Sees Growth Opportunities for Automakers
Press Release: Frost & Sullivan – 19 hrs ago
TOKYO, Sept. 12, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — Frost & Sullivan sees potential growth in Myanmar’s commercial vehicle segment due to the many infrastructure projects and booming mining industry after the easing of sanctions by Western countries against the country.
Mr. Masaki Honda, Principal Consultant, Automotive & Transportation Practice, Asia Pacific at Frost & Sullivan said that total heavy commercial vehicle sales in Myanmar is expected to grow at a CAGR (2011-2016) of 21 per cent to reach 12,700 units in 2016.
He added that registrations of trucks – including locally-manufactured and imported – may increase to 10,100 units by 2016 from the 4,000 units currently. “The growth is due to the infrastructure projects and the mining sector which use dump trucks and other heavy-duty machineries,” Mr. Honda said.
Mr. Honda said that as for buses, approximately 700 buses are newly registered in 2011 and the number of buses will reach 2,600 units by 2016 thanks to the increase of passenger movements within the country and between neighboring countries.
“Myanmar is an attractive destination for commercial vehicle manufacturers looking into entering the country,” he added.
However, he said that the main challenge for foreign vehicle manufacturers is the affordability of their vehicles. “Local companies may not be able to purchase brand-new commercial vehicles especially Japanese or European-made and will resort to used vehicles,” Mr. Honda said.
Foreign firms will probably be cautious about making any large investment due to the frequent regulatory changes, he added.
Mr. Honda noted that most of the trucks currently used in Myanmar are Japanese makes such as Nissan Diesel and Mitsubishi Fuso, imported from Japan. “Japanese-made used vehicles are popular even though they are older models such as 2004 models because of durability and reliability, while newer Korean and Chinese brands are preferred because of lower price tags compared to Japanese brands,” he said.
Mr. Honda said that Myanmar has about 2.3 million registered vehicles as of 2011, which include passenger cars, motorcycles and commercial vehicles. He noted that motorcycle is the most popular mode of transport in Myanmar and accounts for 81 per cent of the total registered vehicles. Meanwhile, passenger cars have a 12 per cent market share, followed by commercial vehicles at 3 per cent and buses at 1 per cent.
He said that vehicle importers play an important role in bringing in used-vehicles into Myanmar due to a lack of locally manufactured vehicles in the country.
He added that before 2009, vehicle import had been restricted to limited companies such as a company owned by the Myanmar military which runs multiple businesses such as manufacturing, trading and transportation. However, since 2010, private companies have been allowed to import vehicles, resulting in more brands and types of commercial vehicles made available in Myanmar.
“Korean and Chinese brands have been gaining market share since then and are expected to increase further due to their lower pricing as compared to Japanese used vehicles,” he said.
About Frost & Sullivan
Frost & Sullivan, the Growth Partnership Company, works in collaboration with clients to leverage visionary innovation that addresses the global challenges and related growth opportunities that will make or break today’s market participants.
Our “Growth Partnership” supports clients by addressing these opportunities and incorporating two key elements driving visionary innovation: The Integrated Value Proposition and The Partnership Infrastructure.
The Integrated Value Proposition provides support to our clients throughout all phases of their journey to visionary innovation including: research, analysis, strategy, vision, innovation and implementation.
The Partnership Infrastructure is entirely unique as it constructs the foundation upon which visionary innovation becomes possible. This includes our 360 degree research, comprehensive industry coverage, career best practices as well as our global footprint of more than 40 offices.
For more than 50 years, we have been developing growth strategies for the global 1000, emerging businesses, the public sector and the investment community. Is your organization prepared for the next profound wave of industry convergence, disruptive technologies, increasing competitive intensity, Mega Trends, breakthrough best practices, changing customer dynamics and emerging economies?
Contact Us: Start the discussion
Join Us: Join our community
Subscribe: Newsletter on “the next big thing”
Register: Gain access to visionary innovation
Corporate Communications – Asia Pacific
PRWeb – Backyard Travel Sets the Trend with Luxury Cruises through Southeast Asia
Tue, Sep 11, 2012
Bangkok-based Backyard Travel, Asia’s most innovative tour and travel operator, highlights a selection of in-demand luxury Asia cruises.
Bangkok, Thailand (PRWEB) September 12, 2012
River cruises through exotic locales are one of the year’s fastest-growing trends, announced the luxury travel network Virtuoso at the recent Virtuoso Travel Week. Travelers seeking unique holidays are increasingly opting for trips to lesser-known destinations and engaging in specialized ‘experiential’ activities that take them off the main tourist trail and into unexplored heartlands.
To meet a growing demand for cruises and authentic travel experiences in the Southeast Asia region, Backyard Travel has designed unique trips throughout Myanmar and Vietnam. The Irrawaddy to Inle Experience offers travelers unseen glimpses of Myanmar ethnic culture with a tour through hill tribe villages, visiting locals markets in Bagan and embarking on a river cruise on the Irrawaddy to Ava, the country’s ancient capital. A motorboat cruise of Inle Lake provides further insight into local life, with the option of joining a riverside family for lunch of traditional Inthar cuisine.
Also in Myanmar, the Cruise the Kingdoms tour is a seven-day trip through the picturesque back-country of Bagan, wending its way along the Irrawaddy to Mandalay, incorporating temple visits, cycling tours and time aboard the RV Paukan. Cruising upstream, travelers can glimpse everyday river life from the deck, and enjoy sunrise over the water before disembarking in Mandalay for a tour of monasteries, pagodas and ancient city ruins.
Vietnam is also an increasingly popular luxury destination, according to the Virtuoso report. The Backyard Travel Saigon to the Delta tour explores this fascinating country from the Mekong River, aboard the Song Xanh – a traditionally styled luxury vessel. Showcasing South Vietnam, this five-day tour explores the tributaries and canals of the Mekong Delta, including the Cai Rang Floating Markets, a Cao Dai Temple and the colonial style Victoria Can Tho Resort – the perfect place for a relaxing spa treatment.
Backyard Travel’s Product & Operations Director Maeve Nolan says, “As travel pioneers in the region we recognized the opportunities for amazing travel experiences along Asia’s waterways and created trips around this theme earlier this year. The recent Virtuoso report confirms our feeling that travelers to Asia are seeking exactly what we offer; off the beaten path and innovative experiences, in comfort and style.”
Backyard Travel offers a wide array of luxury tours through Asia, some offer cruise options and some are purely land-based. With the help of one of Backyard Travel’s on-the-ground consultants, clients can create the perfect itinerary – for ideas, see the complete range of specialized tours.
The Nation – Boom in commercial vehicles seen in Myanmar
September 13, 2012 1:00 am
Research and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan sees growth potential in Myanmar’s commercial-vehicle segment due to the country’s many infrastructure projects and booming mining industry after the easing of sanctions by the West.
Masaki Honda, the company’s principal consultant for automotive and transportation practice, Asia-Pacific, said overall sales of heavy commercial vehicles in Myanmar were expected to see a compound annual growth rate of 21 per cent from 2011 to 2016 to reach 12,700 units in 2016.
Registrations of trucks – both locally manufactured and imported – could increase to 10,100 units by 2016 from 4,000 units currently. “The growth is due to infrastructure projects and the mining sector, which both use dump trucks and other heavy-duty machinery,” he said.
About 700 buses were newly registered in 2011 and the number is predicted to reach 2,600 annually by 2016, thanks to the increase of passenger movements both within Myanmar and with neighbouring countries.
“Myanmar is an attractive destination for commercial-vehicle manufacturers looking to enter the country,” he added. However, the consultant said the main challenge for foreign auto manufacturers was the affordability of their vehicles.
“Local companies may not be able to purchase brand-new commercial vehicles, especially Japanese- or European-made ones, and [many] will resort to used vehicles,” he said. Moreover, foreign firms will probably be cautious about making any large investment in the country because of the frequent regulatory changes, he added.
Most of the trucks currently used in Myanmar are Japanese imports such as the Nissan Diesel and Mitsubishi Fuso.
“Japanese-made used vehicles are popular even though they are older, such as 2004 models, because of their durability and reliability, while newer Korean and Chinese brands are preferred because of lower price tags than Japanese brands,” he said.
Myanmar had about 2.3 million registered vehicles as of last year, including passenger cars, motorcycles and commercial vehicles. Motorcycles are the most popular mode of transport, accounting for 81 per cent of all registered vehicles. Passenger cars have a 12-per-cent market share, followed by commercial vehicles at 3 per cent and buses 1 per cent.
Importers play an important role in bringing used vehicles into Myanmar because of a lack of local manufacturing in the sector, he said.
Before 2010, vehicle imports were restricted |to companies such as an entity owned by the military, which runs multiple businesses such as manufacturing, trading and transport.
However, private companies have since been allowed to import vehicles, resulting in more brands and types of commercial vehicles.
The Nation – Over the Myanmar moon
LIN LIN KHAING
SPECIAL TO THE NATION September 13, 2012 1:00 am
Migrant workers in Thailand can ‘revisit’ their homeland when ‘The Moon Lotus’ screens here
Inspired by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to Thailand in May, when she was greeted by thousands of Myanmar migrant workers, director Zin Yaw Maung Maung has decided to bring his latest movie, “The Moon Lotus”, to screen at several locations here.
The romantic drama, adapted from Khin Khin Htoo’s novel of the same name, is a story about unrequited love between two college students who are separated for years.
The film will be screened here commercially for the first time on October 13 and 14 in Mahachai, the Samut Songkram port city that’s home to Thailand’s biggest population of Myanmar migrant workers.
“The Moon Lotus” will then be shown in Phuket on November 11 and 12, and in Chon Buri’s Sri Racha district on December 1 and 2. With a Burmese soundtrack, it’s subtitled in English.
The movie debuted in Thailand in January last year as part of the Hua Hin International Film Festival.
Unofficial records indicate that Thailand has more than two million Myanmarese migrant labourers working in low-skill jobs around the country.
“The film will allow them to enter a temporary dream in which they can visit Mingun, Bagan, Mandalay, Sagaing and the Shan Mountains in Myanmar,” the director told The Nation last Saturday. “I hope they’ll hold onto their dream of coming back home.”
“The Moon Lotus” cost the equivalent of US$250,000 (Bt7.8 million), which is twice the normal budget for a Myanmarese film, and was produced by Chindwin Movie Production, an emerging production house. Sound editing took a month and was handled by Technicolor’s facilities in Thailand.
Normally it’s difficult to obtain permission to film scenes in or around universities, hospitals, airports and courts, but Zinyaw Maung Maung was able to shoot at prestigious Mandalay University.
“It took me overall eight months to prepare, because I had to keep in mind the dignity and pride of Mandalay University. First the script had to be submitted to the ministries of Information and Education.
“The movie will be shown in Bangkok if there’s enough interest from the Thai audience,” he said. “After Thailand it will be shown in Singapore. This movie could be a breakthrough for Myanmar movies to go international.”
The film is scheduled to screen at the Cathay Cineplex in Singapore in November.
With its economy on the rise, Myanmar is now entering a new era of filmmaking, where everything needs to be bigger, better and more international, Zinyaw Maung Maung said.
“Myanmar audiences now know everything on the Internet. The moviemakers should pay close attention, no matter what kind of film they’re making. The system of moviemaking should change. We need to upgrade the digital, graphic and sound systems, and more new actors are needed.”
Zinyaw Maung Maung has twice received the Myanmar Academy Award for his directing. The first came in 1994 for “Ta Pyay Thu Ma Shwe Htar”. Ten years later it was “Mystery of Snow”, which was also released internationally.
His next project is a historical film about King Bayintnaung (known in Thailand as King Burengnong), one of the country’s three greatest monarchs.
MinnPost.com – The return of “Made in Myanmar” to US closets
By Patrick Winn | 08:01 am Global Post
BANGKOK, Thailand — If you’ve got a pair of tattered, grunge-era Levi’s, check the tag. If it reads “Made in Myanmar,” you’ve got a relic from a time when US apparel makers were still willing to do business in Myanmar (also called Burma) and risk condemnation for colluding with ruling despots.
A lot has changed since 1992, the year Levi Strauss closed Myanmar operations while announcing it wasn’t possible to do business there without “directly supporting the military government and its pervasive violations of human rights.”
Now, as a reform movement nudges Western sanctions towards the dustbin, Myanmar appears primed to compete with other Asian nations on the come-up (think Bangladesh and Vietnam) and start churning out American clothing brands en masse.
This is almost inevitable. Stitching clothes is highly repetitive, low-pay work that gravitates to poor countries. Myanmar, located between China and India, hits all the right strategic and economic notes. In fact, the country already has a sizable industry that was gutted in 2003, the year American trade embargoes criminalized shipping clothes to the US.
Myanmar is among the poorest nations in Asia. And when extremely poor countries attempt to pull themselves off the ground, they often have little else to offer but dirt-cheap wages and unskilled masses desperate for steady jobs. That’s why garment stitching is, in the words of Japanese researcher Toshihiro Kudo, the “first rung on the industrialization ladder.”
Expectations are high, he writes, that garment stitching will become this ascendent nation’s “driving force” in the manufacturing sector.
So if you buy cheap threads from H&M, The Gap or any of the other brands that already source clothes from impoverished reaches of Southeast Asia, expect “Made in Myanmar” to reappear in your closet in the very near future.
September 13, 2012 12:45 PM
Myanmar, Japan To Hold Workshop On Satellite Launching
YANGON, Sept 13 (Bernama) — Myanmar and Japan will hold a workshop in the second week of October in preparation for launching satellite for Myanmar with Japanese aid to promote the capacity of the country’s telecommunication and information sectors, China’s Xinhua news agency quoted official media’s report on Thursday.
The holding of the workshop was discussed by Myanmar Minister of Transport U Nyan Tun Aung and Managing Director of Japan-based Marubeni Aerospace Corporation Hiroshi Ikuno, said the New Light of Myanmar.
The workshop will cover exchange of views on launching small-scale earth survey satellite of Myanmar provided by Japanese government to forecast weather, aviation and maritime communications, agriculture, marine administration, forest management and mining.
Japan will also help in drawing space-related strategy via space record and provide in teaching space-related technology at the universities.
For launching satellite, Myanmar has set up a five-member central committee and a seven-member working committee, according to an earlier report.
Meanwhile, in April, Japan wrote off 300 billion yen (about US$3.68 billion)debt and overdue charge of Myanmar from the past two decades to help the country move towards democracy.
While vowing to resume aid, Japan will also roll over 198.9 billion yen of debt with a new development loan.
The Irrawaddy – NLD Legal Advice Team a Big Hit
By LAWI WENG / THE IRRAWADDY| September 12, 2012 |
NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks to the crowd at the opening of her party’s office in Naypyidaw in August. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)
Around 300 people have already sought legal advice at the National League for Democracy (NLD) office in Naypyidaw since the party began a lawyers network group on Aug. 15.
Burma’s pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi chairs the parliamentary Rule of Law Committee and offered lawyers in the capital a room at her party office to conduct weekend consultations.
The NLD leader attended the opening ceremony of the scheme which aims to educate Burmese citizens regarding their rights and responsibilities as the country emerges from half-a-century of military dictatorship.
“Around 30 to 40 people came to our office on the first day. Then more people kept coming on other days and almost 300 people have now been consulted and received legal advice since then,” said Khin Maung Zaw, a leading member of the lawyers network group.
“Many of the cases were concerning land confiscations and we advised them to propose their case to the land confiscation investigation committee at Parliament. We showed the people how to write complaint letters and how to submit these to Parliament and the President’s Office.”
The complaint letters are generally submitted to the relevant government department through the Judiciary and Legal Affairs Committee chaired by Thura Aung Ko, the Unity Solidarity and Development Party MP for Kanpetlet constituency in Mindat, Chin State. However, some complaints are addressed directly to NLD MP Min Thu and then forwarded to Suu Kyi.
Since the NLD participated in the by-elections on April 1, the party has strived to enshrine the rule of law in Burma, according to MP Phyo Zay Yar Thaw. “This legal advice team may offer a lot of hope for people where they can come and have the opportunity to seek advice,” he told The Irrawaddy.
Those who have used the service did not only come from Naypyidaw but all different parts of Burma including the Wa Special Region in northern Shan State and the Mon State capital Moulmein, according to the lawyers network group.
The scheme’s Naypyidaw office is open from 10 am to 4 pm each Saturday and Sunday and is staffed by five senior lawyers and another 15 trainees. “We offer people advice based on what they need and it does not have to only be about the land confiscation issue,” said Khin Maung Zaw.
Some complaint cases have already been brought to court and received a verdict which the plaintiff then wants to challenge. Sometimes the victims are forced to immediately vacate their houses by the authorities who claim their land is illegally occupied, but the lawyers network group provides advice on how to appeal at court in order to allow residents to stay longer.
“One company confiscated around 200 acres of farmland for a project,” said Khin Maung Zaw. “But they only actually needed 90 acres for the project and the company officials were just sharing the rest of the property between themselves for personal gain.
“We have a duty to do this work as we are lawyers. We charge money at other times, but this work we do for free. I feel very happy as I can work for the people directly. I found many people put a lot of hope in us and feel reassured after they talk with us.”
The Irrawaddy – Govt Invites KIO to Naypyidaw
By LAWI WENG / THE IRRAWADDY| September 12, 2012 |
Burma’s President Thein Sein wants the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) to hold its next round of peace talks with the government in Naypyidaw as efforts to agree on a location in the northern region or in China have stalled, said President’s Office Minister Aung Min.
Naypyidaw’s chief peace negotiator Aung Min spoke exclusively to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday. He said that he had proposed to the Kachin leadership that they travel to the Burmese capital for the next round of negotiations, but that the KIO had yet to respond.
“I believe that if they come to Naypyidaw, we can take our bilateral relationship from what might be called a ‘Minus 4? position to perhaps a ‘Minus 1? or ‘Minus 2?,” he said.
He said that it is difficult to agree on a safe venue in Kachin State, and that the government’s top representative, Gen. Soe Win, would not go to Ruili, across the Chinese border, for talks.
Deputy commander-in-chief of the Burmese army, Soe Win, has headed the government delegation in recent talks with the KIO regarding the withdrawal of Burmese troops from front-line positions in Kachin and Shan states where they have about 40 bases.
Aung Min said he earlier proposed that the next round of talks be held in Kachin State’s Bhamo Township, while the KIO maintained that it wanted the venue to be in Loijay, a township closer to KIO-controlled area. Another suggested location, he said, was Muse, a Burmese town bordering China, or in a third country.
Aung Min said that he had met KIO leaders three times, and that he believed he had been successful in establishing a working dialog with the rebels.
“I have already solved many political and economic issues with the Kachins,” he said. “However, we have not solved the military problem. I personally do not have power within the army. This part has to be dealt with by the military leaders from both sides.”
Aung Min has been involved in fruitful negotiations with no less than 11 ethnic armed groups; however, attempts at reconciling differences with the KIO have proved elusive.
He referred again to his Plus and Minus yardstick, saying that a ceasefire agreement can be achieved when both sides reach a “Plus 1” level. He said he rued that relations had deteriorated to a “Minus 4” level with the KIO, but noted that “the situation with the Kachins was already broken before I took over the position as chief peace negotiator.”
Aung Min rejected allegations reported in the media that the Burmese army was refusing, on occasion, to take orders from the president with regard to ceasing hostilities in KIO areas.
“The situation in Kachin State is very complicated,” he said. “That is why we believe it needs to be solved on a step-by-step basis.”
Fighting in Kachin State broke out last June, ending a 17-year-old ceasefire. The conflict has continued since then despite repeated attempts at negotiations. The war has forced some 65,000 people from their homes, some of whom have crossed the border into China.
The Irrawaddy – US-Burma Military Ties ‘Would Push Reform’
By CHARLIE CAMPBELL / THE IRRAWADDY| September 12, 2012 |
The United States should engage with Burma’s armed forces, collaborate with China and further roll back sanctions to enhance reforms, urges a leading think-tank.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) visited Burma in August to explore the current political, economic and social transformation enacted by President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government and reported that greater regional engagement was needed including joint military exercises.
“If the military continues to support the transition to civilian rule and observes ceasefires in ethnic minority areas, the United States should begin to consider joint military exercises with the Myanmar armed forces and provide selected Myanmar officers access to US International Military Education and Training opportunities in US defense academies,” read a CSIS report on the trip released on Wednesday.
The Washington-based think-tank encouraged President Barack Obama to meet with both Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi when they visit the United States this month. Economic sanctions on imports from Burma should also be rolled back while assistance programs by international financial institutions must receive immediately support.
“Myanmar’s government, opposition leaders, civil society groups and business leaders all emphasized that there is an urgency and immediacy around the process of change in their country,” said the CSIS.
“The United States should be aware that there are important, perhaps even historic, opportunities to promote and support reform. It needs also to be aware of substantial threats to reform and transparency.”
While admitting that real change is underway in the former pariah state, the CSIS denied that excessive dependence on China was a primary motivation for military leaders to pursue reform and, conversely, a proactive policy of consultation with China could help mitigate concerns in Beijing.
“In fact, the group’s interlocutors stressed China’s role as a traditional neighbor and encouraged the United States to avoid zero-sum policies toward China,” continued the report.
“Given China’s long near-monopoly on political ties, military sales and trade with Myanmar during the decades of military rule, the country’s rapidly warming ties with the United States are being greeted with suspicion in China and are stoking fears about imagined US containment efforts.”
In fact, the CSIS claims that it was the generals’ damaged pride over Burma’s economic failings and fatigue with running the country in the wake of the 2007 “Saffron Revolution” democracy protests and subsequent violent crackdown that prompted the current wave of democratization.
“Describing Than Shwe as a wily political manipulator, informed observers speculated that he sought to diffuse power to avoid a Ceau?escu-style uprising in the wake of the Arab Spring and to safeguard his inner circle’s perquisites once safely in retirement,” said the report, referring to former Romanian communist leader Nicolae Ceau?escu who was overthrown and executed in 1989.
The CSIS said that economic growth in post-sanctions Burma could be rapid considering the military-dominated nation’s geostrategic position at the “crossroads of China, India and Southeast Asia,” yet a lack of expertise and experience could jeopardize reforms along with ongoing ethnic conflicts—as well as the Rohingya crisis in western Burma’s Arakan State.
“Two years ago, the notion of ‘federalism’ was considered a dirty word by the government. Today government officials have begun to talk openly about the concept, although they leave it undefined,” said the think-tank. “The [CSIS] delegation heard considerable goodwill toward the ethnic groups from senior officials, but so far much of their attention is focused on ceasefires, which history suggests is not enough to resolve long-standing differences.”
Civil society activists emphasized to the CSIS that it was vital to build support for reform and institutionalize change in the run-up to the 2015 general election while building confidence within the military with a view to eventually altering undemocratic articles in the widely-condemned 2008 Constitution.
“Government officials, including representatives of the Ministry of Defense, said they expected the military planned to gradually cede its grip on 25 percent of the seats in Parliament as is now mandated in the Constitution,” read the report.
“Officials frequently cited the Indonesia model where the military gradually gave up the protected seats it had in the Parliament following the 1998 toppling of President Suharto. In Myanmar, military members of Parliament do not always vote as a bloc and end up sometimes supporting the opposition as many did on a recent proposal requiring that parliamentarians should declare their assets.”
Meanwhile, despite expressing disapproval with the manner in which their country’s name was changed from Burma to Myanmar, opposition figures told the CSIS group that “the country should be called Myanmar unless and until the people of Myanmar change the name in the future.”
Obama should meet with Suu Kyi and Thein Sein: report
Wednesday, 12 September 2012 13:18 Mizzima News
CSIS-logoA new CSIS report has recommended that President Barrack Obama meet with both Aung San Suu Kyi and Burmese President Thein Sein when they are both in the US in September.
A group from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSISO) visited Burma in August to explore the political, economic, and social reforms launched by the new civilian government and develop policy recommendations for the US government.
Among the report’s recommendations were that Obama meet both Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. It said members of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) recommended he meet with both leaders.
The report said to expect another significant release of political prisoners in September. Leaders and senior officials said they expected the government to release a substantial percentage of the remaining political prisoners before Thein Sein visits the United States in late September.
The opposition NLD has given the government a list of 330 political prisoners remaining in detention. Some other groups estimate that more than 500 political prisoners are still in prison, said the report.
It also said the US should move toward conditionally removing its remaining sanctions on imports from Burma and immediately allow US support for assistance programs by international financial institutions in Burma.
If the Burmese government releases all or most of its remaining political prisoners before Thein Sein visits the US, the U.S. government should make clear its intention to take steps to ease the sanctions against Burma’s exports, it said.
The US government also should use the Burmese government’s interest in getting the export sanctions lifted to press the regime to step up transparency in the extractive industries, including by signing the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), said the report.
It also said that the state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) should be required to prepare an annual report on its activities for Parliament to leverage resource revenue sharing; encourage transparent contribution of funds for spending in core areas such as education, health care, and infrastructure; protect the environment; and promote workers’ rights.
The delegation heard requests from the democratic opposition, civil society leaders, and international organizations for the United States to support political reform by allowing for economic development, job creation, and a measured and conditioned process of sanctions lifting by the United States that provides leverage to those seeking a transparent, accountable, and sustainable opening of the country. This principle should be reflected in U.S. policy, it said.
The report called for substantial levels of assistance for capacity building at all levels. The US, which is reopening its U.S. Agency for International Development mission in Burma in September, should coordinate with other donor nations to leverage its support and provide targeted assistance to enhance governance, rule of law, and skills.
It said the assistance should include training to increase the capacity of officials in Parliament, the executive branch, and the judiciary and provide guidance on best practices for how these institutions should function to create conditions for political stability and democracy.
Training should focus particularly on rule of law, transparency, and policies to govern the economy, protect the environment, and rein in corruption.
The report said civil society leaders and opposition political leaders called for a massive increase in English language training across the board so that people beyond the elites and their children would have access to foreign training inside the country and be able to study abroad.
CISI called for an increase engagement with Burma’s military. The United States should use engagement opportunities to provide training to a new generation of military officers in such areas as civilian-military relations, law of war, and transparency. Many of the most reform-oriented senior officers in the current government are products of international military education, including in US institutions. It said vetting military officers and complying with U.S. legislation will not be easy, particularly as fighting continues in some areas controlled by ethnic groups such as Kachin State and violations of ceasefires continue in other border areas.
If the military continues to support the transition to civilian rule and observes cease-fires in ethnic minority areas, the United States should begin to consider joint military exercises with the Burmese armed forces and provide selected officers access to US International Military Education and Training opportunities in U.S. defense academies. More immediately, it said, the United States and Asean should engage the Myanmar military in such forums as the annual Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore and the biannual Asean Defense Ministers Meeting-Plus.
The report said a strong Asean is a vital foundation for developing regional architecture, including the East Asia Summit, Asean Regional Forum, Asean Defense Ministers Plus, the Transpacific Partnership, and Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation. A weak and isolated Burma has for years undercut efforts toward a strong and unified Asean, it said.
The report called for exploring collaboration with China in Burma. It said the widespread belief that the Burmese government’s concerns about excessive dependence on China was a primary motivator in prompting military leaders to pursue reform appears to be overstated.
In fact, the group’s interlocutors stressed China’s role as a traditional neighbor and encouraged the United States to avoid zero-sum policies toward China. Given China’s long near-monopoly on political ties, military sales, and trade with during the decades of military rule, the country’s rapidly warming ties with the United States are being greeted with suspicion in China and are stoking fears about imagined US containment efforts. A proactive policy of consultation with China on the US approach toward Burma could help mitigate concerns in Beijing about the United States using Burma to contain China.
Real change is under way in Burma, the report said. Political and economic reforms launched by President Thein Sein and his allies and broadly supported by opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi appear to be real, but the process for implementing and institutionalizing those changes remains fragile and is not irreversible.
The people the delegation met in the government, the opposition, civil society, and private sector consistently expressed goodwill and strong support for the changes outlined by the government, but confidence in their ultimate success was hardly universal.
Members of the military the delegation met were supportive of the reform process, though it was impossible to gauge how far the military will go in voluntarily ceding further power to civilians, said the report. Notably, government and military leaders alike indicated that they expected the military to reduce its role in Parliament and government in general, including reducing the constitutionally mandated requirement for 25 percent of the Parliament to be held by the military.
The president is moving in the right direction, but the extent of support for reform is still not fully tested. President Thein Sein has consolidated his power and moved forward with important steps such as ending press censorship, shuffling those not aligned with reform out of his cabinet and allowing Aung San Suu Kyi and her party to run for election and sit in Parliament.
However, some of the hardest political hurdles in addressing the residual power centers of the old regime lie ahead. After nearly five decades of military rule, learned governance habits tend to be top-down—“give orders, take orders,” as one expert noted.
This creates risk, said CISI. For instance, both the president and the National Defense and Security Council retain the constitutional right to declare emergency rule at any time. The lack of resource-sharing agreements in ethnic areas or transparency in the government budget means that the powerful cronies (often referred to as “proxies”) from the previous regime have not yet seen their core equities challenged.
The CSIS delegation said it heard broad consensus that the military wants to transition to a professional military role, but this appears to be contingent on the maintenance of peace and stability. Peace and stability is contingent on the ruling party and the democratic opposition finding a way forward in the midst of numerous competing interests and within a fragile political space.
The transition is complicated and possibly threatened by ongoing ethnic strife, for instance in Rakhine and Kachin states. Many ethnic groups continue to feel that their influence within the transition remains severely limited or nonexistent.
Burma is geo-strategically important and is the second largest country in terms of landmass in Southeast Asia. It is the fifth most populous with a population of roughly 55 million and is located at the crossroads of China, India, and Southeast Asia.
Lack of training and expertise could hobble reform, said the report. The lack of expertise and experience is one of the biggest challenges facing the reforms. People the group met readily admitted that many officials have little idea what political reform and democracy mean after decades of authoritarian rule. The same is true for economic reforms.
For instance, parliamentarians across political parties said they were hungry for models they could apply for lawmaking, staffing, and due process. At present, the legislative process is, by default, top heavy; the leadership develops ideas and pushes them down for approval, reflecting the military background of the leaders. For instance, topics to be raised for debate in Parliament need to be approved in advance.
Officials talked about the difficulty of getting new policies implemented at the local level, though it often was not clear to what extent this was due to foot dragging or a lack of understanding. Parliamentarians say they have no experience, no legal expertise, no staff, and no libraries. What they say they need most is capacity building and exposure to the experience of other democracies.
The report said the regime appears to be severing military ties with North Korea. Burma’s officials said they recognize how important this issue is to the United States, insisted that the government did not have (or no longer had) such ties, and said they will abide by all UN Security Council resolutions related to North Korea.
Officials have negotiated cease-fires with 10 ethnic groups, but the earlier ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) in the north has collapsed since the civilian government took office last year. Low-level fighting, human rights violations, and the displacement of villagers continue. It said President Thein Sein has assigned Aung Min, his office’s dynamic reform-minded minister who was promoted in a cabinet shuffle in late August from his role as minister of railways, to begin a political dialogue with five of the cease-fire groups.
It is still far from clear how a fair political settlement, a condition for most of the groups to lay down their arms, will be achieved with the ethnic groups. Two years ago, the notion of “federalism” was considered a dirty word by the government. Today government officials have begun to talk openly about the concept, although they leave it undefined, the report said.
The delegation heard considerable goodwill toward the ethnic groups from senior officials, but so far much of their attention is focused on cease-fires, which history suggests is not enough to resolve long-standing differences. Land-grabbing, failure to compensate locals for land and resources, and similar abuses continue to be reported in ethnic minority areas and remain the hardest challenge for the government in managing its powerful military and its long-standing economic interests.
Some form of equitable revenue sharing will need to be worked out, the report said, particularly because the areas where the ethnic minorities live are where much of the country’s oil and gas, mineral, and forestry wealth are located. Failure to address resource sharing would likely derail efforts to move from ceasefires to political settlement. This is important because economic growth—namely, creating jobs and opportunities—is a key factor for sustained peace and stability in areas controlled by ethnic minorities.
There still does not appear to be the sustained and high-level focus on political empowerment of the ethnic minorities that is necessary before stability, reconciliation, and development can occur.
One other critical unanswered question is what the ethnics, who are divided into many different groups, want in exchange for laying down their weapons and reconciling with the new government. Even in areas where cease-fires have been signed, government troops have not been withdrawn; ethnic leaders say that they continue to face human rights violations and that many of their former fields are still heavily mined.
The Rohingya and Rakhine State threaten to undermine reforms and national unity. The Rohingya, a predominantly Muslim minority group living in the western state of Rakhine, are considered by the United Nations to be one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. The government does not officially recognize the Rohingya as one of the country’s minority groups and will not grant them citizenship. Violence in the region was stirred up earlier this year, and on June 10 an emergency was declared, allowing the military to enter the region to quell the violence. By the end of August, 88 people had died in clashes. Thein Sein said July 12 that deporting the Rohingyas should be the solution to the problem. Disappointingly, many groups and individuals generally supportive of human rights either support the president’s view or like NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi remain silent on the issue.
One of the key questions in Burma today is why the former military regime mounted a political liberalization effort. Some analysts have suggested that China’s increasingly dominant role in the country’s economy was a key factor in prompting the reforms to allow the government to court closer relations with the United States, Europe, and Japan. But, inside the country, officials and observers stressed such internal factors as the leadership’s damaged pride and embarrassment over the country’s falling economically so far behind its neighbors, the army’s fatigue with running the country (including the military’s tarnished image after it brutally repressed Buddhist monk led protests in 2007), and the increasing clamor by the country’s people for a voice in shaping their destiny.
Officials credited former strongman Than Shwe with initiating the top-down reforms in 2004 with his seven-point democracy roadmap and then stepping aside for Thein Sein in March 2011 following elections.
Describing Than Shwe as a wily political manipulator, informed observers speculated that he sought to diffuse power to avoid a Ceausescu-style uprising in the wake of the Arab Spring and to safeguard his inner circle’s perquisites once safely in retirement. “The military needed a graceful exit,” one official said.
Government officials, including representatives of the Ministry of Defense, said they expected the military planned to gradually cede its grip on 25 percent of the seats in Parliament as is now mandated in the constitution.
Officials frequently cited the Indonesia model where the military gradually gave up the protected seats it had in the Parliament following the 1998 toppling of President Suharto. The military says it wants to professionalize, cede its dominant role in politics, and focus on national security issues. To achieve this, military leaders say extensive training is needed, particularly among young rising officers. The military says it has the utmost respect for the professionalism of the US military and would like to receive as much training as the United States is willing to offer.
Commitment to reform is driven by a small group of leaders. Most officials and observers believe that the reforms are being driven by President Thein Sein with strong support from a small core of reform-minded colleagues in the cabinet, including Aung Min, Industry Minister Soe Thein, and Planning Minister Tin Naing Thein. These three were promoted to an inner circle of ministers in the President’s Office in late August.
Shwe Mann, is also described as a committed reformer, even though the legislature is often in competition with the executive branch, said the report. Most of those interviewed by the CSIS group said the reforms were not completely dependent on President Thein Sein, though there was a consensus that he was uniquely courageous and bold in driving the reform agenda. That said, it was difficult for the group to determine whether the broader political elite serves as a silent reservoir of support for the handful of committed reformers or is simply sitting on the fence waiting to see which way the political winds blow.
Is the decisive moment for reform 2015, or now? Some analysts have argued that the next big opportunity to promote reform will come around the time of the next national elections in 2015. But civil society activists we met, including NLD leaders and long-imprisoned leaders of the 1988 Generation student uprising, said that the important time to build support for reform and institutionalize the changes is between now and 2015.
They argued that it is critical that the opposition work now to build confidence within the military so it will have enough trust to allow amendments to address the limits on democracy in the constitution and not panic if the opposition wins the majority in Parliament.
The group met with political prisoners released over the past year; all stressed the need to build confidence rather than seek retribution against their former jailers. Their sense of mission, discipline, and apparent lack of desire for retribution was striking, the report said.
Political reform is leading economic reform. So far most of the reforms have focused more on the political system than the economy, although officials recognize that popular expectations are running high and that economic development is critical to maintain political and popular momentum for the country’s political transition. The fact that the only other country to follow this order of reform was the former Soviet Union is not lost on officials and helps explain at least in part why they are so eager for foreign investment and other economic assistance.
Burma’s business executives said that President Thein Sein seems to have decided not to punish former cronies/proxies, but these corrupt businessmen appear to have lost most of their former privileges as the president has moved to level the playing field, said the report.
The monopoly of a few military companies on importing cooking oil and cars has ended, causing prices to drop sharply on these two items. Ministers feel they cannot have any dealings with cronies out of fear they could face charges of corruption, the report said. To burnish their image, some cronies are reportedly mounting corporate social responsibility projects and asking foreign diplomats for information on international labor standards.
Businessmen from Europe, Japan, and the United States are packing airplanes into the country and Yangon’s hotels to come look at the last unexplored frontier in Southeast Asia, but very few have signed any agreements to invest. Among other things, they are vetting potential joint venture partners to ensure they are not on the US Specifically Designated Nationals List, which includes people deemed to have engaged in activities that violated human rights or hindered political reform or the peace process with ethnics. They are also waiting to interpret the newly passed foreign investment law. Beyond that, foreign companies recognize that the country still lacks basic infrastructure, including reliable electricity and ports, rule of law, an educated and trained workforce and strong property rights.
Finally, the report warned to beware of moves to change the electoral system. The success of the NLD in April’s by-elections, in which it won 43 out of 45 seats, has prompted discussion about changing the country’s election format from a winner-take-all system to proportional representation.
The ruling USDP won only one seat in the by-election even though it garnered 30 percent of the vote, and leaders are said to be concerned that the party could be wiped out by an NLD landslide in the elections in 2015 unless proportional representation is introduced.
Many opposition officials and civil society leaders interviewed were not pleased with the manner in which their country’s name was changed from Burma to Myanmar, but they told the CSIS group that the country should be called Myanmar unless and until the people of Myanmar change the name in the future.
Cease-fire ‘only with Naypyitaw’ not with Burmese army: SSA
Wednesday, 12 September 2012 12:49 Mizzima News
“The Burmese Army has taken advantage of the cease-fire to rebuild and reinforce their bases,”a source who asked not to be named told the Shan Herald news agency. “But it only wants us to move to our border bases.”
“So we seem to have a cease-fire only with Naypyitaw, but not with the Burmese Army,” he said. “It is like the Shan saying: ‘When the master eats, he says it’s because he likes it; but when the servant eats, he says the servant is greedy’.”
The Burmese army is encouraging its rural-based People’s Militia Forces to recruit and expand, he said.
According to the SSA, in an attack against its base in Tong Lao, Mongkeung Township, on Sept. 7 more than 10 Burmese troops were killed and more than 30 were wounded. The figures could not be confirmed
Fighting also took place in Mong Pu Awn, Mongpiang Yownship, on Sept. 5, when another SSA base was attacked, and also near Mai Niu, Mawkmai Township, on Sept. 8, according to reports.
“Everything indicates that the fighting will continue,” said Lt-Gen Yawdserk, the chairman of the Restoration Council of Shan State, the SSA’s political arm. “The only bright side is that the door is now open for negotiations.”
Both the SSA South and SSA North have fought over 60 clashes against the Burmese Army since cease-fire agreements were signed on December 2 and January 28, respectively.
88-Generation students, KNPP to work together to create ‘Union’ gov’t
Wednesday, 12 September 2012 12:29 Kun Chan
Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – 88-Generation Student Group leaders and the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) say they will cooperate to create a “genuine Union’”in which all ethnic nationalities will have the power to create their own destinies.
On Tuesday, a five-person delegation led by 88-Generation student leader Mya Aye and a three-member KNPP delegation discussed the current political situation in Burma at the KNPP liaison office in Loikaw, Karenni [Kayah] State.
“We will cooperate to create a genuine Union country that can guarantee freedom, justice and equality and in which all nationalities can create their own destinies,” said a joint statement.
Student leader Mya Aye said, “Our country is composed of many nationalities so we must create a genuine Union country.”
KNPP secretary Khu Oo Reh said, “Burma has many nationalities, so a federal Union system is the most suitable one in which every nationality can live together equally. It is the first meeting with the 88-generation students, but there will be many follow-ups and it is a good beginning, I think.”
A six-point joint statement called for genuine peace talks and urged the government to stop all fighting in Kachin State as soon as possible. The two groups will cooperate with any group that supports democracy, the statement said.
“To establish peace between the KIO/KIA [and the government] is important. Our 88-generation students’ policy is aimed at establishing peace,” said Mya Aye.
It was the first meeting between the 88-Generation students group and the KNPP, which agreed to a cease-fire with the Karenni State government on March 7, 2012.
After the meeting, the delegation of the 88-Generation students group planned to meet with farmers whose land was confiscated to build a cement factory in a village in the northeast of Loikaw, said Soe Tun, a member of the 88-Generation.
Since many 88-Generation student leaders were released from prison earlier this year, they have worked to support peace, an open civil society and to help solve problems regarding unlawful land confiscation.
They have held meetings with ethnic armed groups including Kachin, Karen [Kayin] and Mon groups, and ethnic political parties.
DVB News – Freed copper mine protesters assaulted by police
By MIN LWIN
Published: 12 September 2012
Nine out of 12 female farmers, arrested for protesting against a copper mine in Monywa in Sagaing division earlier this week, claim to have been beaten by the police before being released from jail on Tuesday.
The women say police assaulted them when they refused to leave the premises without their three fellow protesters, who had been moved from the police station.
“We said we wouldn’t go without Aye Net and Thwe Thwe Win and then we were put in a room by a policeman and a policewoman. They pulled our hair, twisted our arms and waist and pushed us on the ground. They took Thwe Thwe Win to an unknown place on a truck,” said Mi Swe, one of the released protesters.
The nine farmers were released from Monywa police station-1 in the early hours of Tuesday, while three others – identified as Thwe Thwe Win, Aye Net and Phyu Phyu Wn — were taken to an undisclosed location. According to Mi Swe, violence ensued when they pressed the police for their whereabouts.
Authorities have stepped up security in Monywa Township as mass protests against a controversial copper mine project continue to spread. Roads to the police station have been blocked and barbed wire fences installed.
Ye Yint Kyaw, a member of Monywa District’s Students Union, who led a protest against the 12 famers’ arrest, said some of their houses had been searched by the authorities.
“My house, and Ko Nwe Oo and Ko Htin Sha houses were searched as well as Ko Hein Zaw Win’s,” said Ye Yint Kyaw.
Monywa Police Station-1 was unavailable for comment.
On Monday, district authorities arrested the 12 farmers for organising a two-day Buddhist prayer rally at the historic Sutaungpyi Pagoda in Monywa town.
Authorities used boats to block off jetties where locals were boarding ferries headed to the prayer rally.
“We tried to go and join the prayer on [Sunday and Monday] but the ferries were being blocked from leaving the jetties – a boat manager said the order came from the district’s police commander,” said a resident from Wet Hmay village.
A bystander in Mongywa said 12 participants including organiser Thwe Thwe Win were arrested by the police when they arrived at Nanchun jetty.
Residents in Monywa district’s Salingyi township have been protesting for months against the massive copper mining project in the area, which is a joint-venture between the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings and China’s Wanbao Company.
The mining project has led to the confiscation of about 7,800 acres of farmland in total and forced farmers from 66 villages in the area to relocate.
Farmers were provided compensation for the loss of their crops for up to three years; however, most of the residents have said that isn’t enough while others have complained that they received no reimbursement.
Inhabitants of the villages – Kan Taw, Wet Hmay, Sae Teh, See Taw – were given until December last year to move out. Officials said they would berelocated close to the highway connecting Monywa to the town of Bassein, but they complain it will leave them destitute.