Spotlight & Most popular Burma/Myanmar Related News (Aug 2011)
Mike Hedge, Senior Writer
August 1, 2011 – 4:29PM
Two Burmese men living in Australia have joined their former commander in admitting to crimes against humanity as members of a military intelligence group in Burma.
One of them, an Australian citizen, says he held a rank equivalent to sergeant in the Burmese army team led by confessed mass murderer Htoo Htoo Han, who now lives in Brisbane.
He was joined this week in his admissions by a third man, who is in Australia on a refugee visa, also claiming to be a member of the group. Both men live in Victoria.
Han last month admitted to personally assassinating at least 24 anti-government dissidents and being indirectly involved in as many as 150 other murders during widespread anti-government protests in Burma in the late 1980s.
The two men say they acted under instructions from Han and other officers to torture and eliminate targets and to dispose of the bodies of dozens of murdered protesters.
The elder of the two men, who is 57, provided evidence of his identity, but spoke only on the condition that he be identified by the name Maung.
The other gave his name as Soe Aung and said he was a teenager when he committed his crimes at the time of the 1988 unrest.
Maung said undercover officers, including Han, would infiltrate student ranks and relay information about targets.
“First we line up trucks, about 100, and when the people (protesters) come we lift the cover and shoot,” he said.
“After that we shoot into the houses. It is martial law. If the people show their face they are shot.
“We are guilty, but the command come from Htoo Htoo Han and up above.”
As the military regained control in Rangoon, the role of Han’s group, he said, was to torture suspects and dispose of bodies.
Both men, who said they received training from the Israeli secret service, described a popular form of torture in which a wooden pole was repeatedly rolled along a victims shins.
“The pain is very bad, they can’t stand it,” Maung said.
“Also we make them stand on small stones, and give beatings.
“Sometimes we come back in the morning and they are dead.”
Maung said many bodies were incinerated in a boiler house at a major Rangoon cemetery.
“We just throw them in, nobody knows who are they.”
Like Han, who is expecting to be interviewed by Australian Federal Police this week, his two “comrades” say they are admitting their crimes because they are deeply troubled by their guilt.
“We are Buddhist and we don’t want to do these things,” Maung said.
“But if you don’t do it you are shot.”
He says he escaped to Thailand in 1990 and stayed in a refugee camp before being sponsored to come to Australia as a refugee in 1992.
“Now I want to do something for Australia, pay back, they give us all the rights and support,” he said.
Soe Aung said he spent 10 years in refugee settlements in Thailand before arriving in Australia six years ago.
By Ketan Bondre;Editing by Harish Nambiar | Reuters – 3 hours ago
MUMBAI (Reuters) – State-run hydro power developer NHPC Ltd plans to develop two hydro power projects in neighbouring Myanmar, it said on Monday.
At present, NHPC is preparing detailed project report for 1,200 mega watts (MW) Htamanthi and 660 MW Shwezaye hydro power projects on Chindwin river in Myanmar, it said in an emailed statement.
In all NHPC has 14 operational power stations with a total installed capacity of 5,295 MW.
Malaysia launches biggest amnesty program to manage mass of illegal migrant workers
Eileen Ng, Associated Press, On Monday August 1, 2011, 6:53 am EDT KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia began registering up to 2 million illegal immigrant workers Monday in an amnesty program aimed at managing waves of foreigners seeking menial jobs unwanted by Malaysians.
The program should make it easier to fill labor shortages for low-paying jobs at palm oil plantations, factories, construction sites and restaurants.
It also means foreigners like Bangladeshi Jueil Bepari, who for three years has done odd jobs including working as a gas station attendant, will no longer have to dodge Malaysian authorities for fear of being jailed, whipped with a cane or deported.
“I am always in fear of being caught. I dare not go to the shops or visit my friends,” 23-year-old Bepari said after registering and receiving a six-month pass to stay in the country while applying for a work permit.
The government hopes that absorbing illegal laborers like Bepari into the mainstream work force it can allow outsiders to take up the many menial jobs shunned by locals. It also plans to build an immigrant database, including fingerprints, to improve security.
Malaysia has some 4 million foreign workers, only half of whom are in the Southeast Asian country legally. Despite years of earlier efforts to cut dependence on foreign labor, demand for foreign workers is likely to keep growing at a yearly average of 6-7 percent until 2015 — twice as fast as the overall labor market, according to director Shamsuddin Bardan of the Malaysian Employers Federation.
As a relatively wealthy nation in the region, Malaysia attracts people from impoverished or war-torn places including Indonesia, Bangladesh and Myanmar who seek stability, better economic opportunity or a way to enter other countries such as Australia.
The amnesty program involves fingerprinting each immigrant worker and checking their employment credentials. Officials said those not already employed or unable to join the work force would be deported.
One Malaysian state began the program earlier on July 18. Eastern Sabah, on Borneo island, has so far signed up 116,000 workers, the Home Ministry said. Sabah ends its program Aug. 8, while the rest of the country finishes Aug. 14.
Some labor activists urged the government to halt the program, saying more oversight is needed to prevent workers from being treated unfairly. Rights groups Tenaganita and the Malaysian Trade Union Congress voiced concern that workers whose employers did not renew their work visas could also be penalized.
They also alleged that some of the 336 companies hired to help run the program were charging more than the allowed 35-ringgit ($12) registration fee.
The Immigration Department vowed to investigate any alleged violations, communications director Aiza Mahani Mozi said, without elaborating on whether complaints had been received.
By Zin Linn Aug 01, 2011 5:37PM UTC
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hailed a meeting between Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi and Burmese government minister Aung Kyi on 25 July, and urged the Government to consider the release of political prisoners, according to a statement issued by a spokesperson, as informed by the UN News Centre.
“In line with the international community’s expectations and Myanmar’s national interest, the Secretary-General hopes such efforts will continue with a view to building mutual understanding through genuine dialogue. He also calls upon the Government of Myanmar to consider early action on the release of political prisoners in that country,” it said.
Releasing all remaining political prisoners is the sole most vital step that authorities in Myanmar (Burma) can take, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon further said on 29 July, expressing hope that the government of the Asian nation will soon take steps towards greater democracy.
In addition, Mr Ban had a telephone conversation earlier on Friday with Wunna Maung Lwin, Myanmar’s foreign minister, just days after he paid tribute to a meeting between a government minister and Burma’s key prominent opposition figure.
In his conversation with Wunna Maung Lwin, Mr Ban highlighted that he had publicly welcomed the reform measures announced by the new government, according to his spokesperson.
“He hoped that the Government would now move toward concrete action and take the country forward towards peace, democracy and prosperity.”
The Secretary-General also expressed his concern to the Foreign Minister about the ongoing warfare involving some armed groups and the impact of that on civilians, saying the Government must resolve the situation peacefully.
However, the issues of releasing political prisoners and ceasefire with ethnic rebels are still unresolved in the new cabinet as vice-president Tin Aung Myin Oo’s faction has been objecting, as said by some observers inside the country.
The military-backed Burmese government and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) are in the process of signing a ceasefire agreement, sources from both sides said, but it is not materialized so far. The KIO has offered to end ongoing fighting if the government will commence talks for a nationwide ceasefire. But Burmese government authorities did not show any positive signal, according to La Nang, a spokesman for the KIO.
According to President Thein Sein, Burma Army must be withdrawn away from the headquarters of the ethnic groups, a source said. But, Tin Aung Myint Oo thought the military operations must continue although there are food-shortage problems inside the Army. The disagreement between “soft-liner” President Thein Sein and “hardliner” Vice President Tin Aung Myint Oo were so tense it seemed the new government could not go further with the two hot issues – free political prisoners and ceasefire with ethnic rebels.
Eventually, Than Shwe came in and gave instruction, a source said. Thein Sein and Tin Aung Myint Oo have to stay in status quo helping unity of the armed forces. By following Than Shwe’s advice, Burma Army has to be maintained unity. The source said it has a document in possession to support his report, According to (S.H.A.N.).
On the other hand, releasing political prisoners and calling peace to armed ethnic groups would provide evidence to the international community that government is really bringing about political change and embracing genuine democratic values.
But, currently, Tin Aung Myin Oo has becoming a barrier on the way to Burma’s political reform. He became a hardlin vice-president in the new government as the representative of the military. As said by the Irrawaddy News, Tin Aung Myint Oo (62), won the Thiha-Thura medal in fight against Communist rebels in the 1980s. He led successful operations against Communist insurgents in Eastern Shan State in September 1988, which led to a cease-fire agreement in 1989. He was promoted to secretary-1 when Thein Sein became prime minister in 2007.
In July 2010, Tin Aung Myint Oo traveled to China to meet with Chinese leaders to discuss the issue of ethnic rebels along the Sino-Burma border. Tin Aung Myin Oo relies too much on China. With China’s backing, he believes Burma can neglect Western sanctions and pressures.
So, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should not think that establishing democratic reform in Burma is too easy to proceed. In his March report to the UN Human Rights Council, Ojea Quintana said that a pattern of “gross and systematic” human rights violations in Burma had persisted over a period of many years and still continued. He suggested that a specific fact-finding UN Commission of Inquiry to be convened as soon as possible to scrutinize the series of international crimes.
Mr. Ban as well as ASEAN leaders should stop reciting rhetorical rhymes via media, said some observers in the country. At least, they should try their best supporting Quintana’s Commission of Inquiry proposal.
It is a disgrace that the UN and ASEAN members seem less committed on protecting poor people of Burma from inhumane international crimes. Allowing crimes against humanity in Burma, it will be in vain to expect a true political talk or reform. Burma needs wide-ranging pressure for change.
By Francis Wade Aug 01, 2011 7:18PM UTC In early 2009 the Washington DC-based EarthRights International released a statement warning energy multinationals that “[n]ew investment in military-ruled Burma’s oil and gas sector could actually cost a company more than to stay away from the country”. Its premise was fairly simple, that “unreasonably high reputation and material risks” accompany most infrastructural projects in Burma, where corporate social responsibility (CSR) and environmental impact assessment (ERI) policies are non-existent, or at best cosmetic.
At the time of the statement, Burma was a slightly different kettle of fish, insomuch as armed conflict was more or less confined to Karen state and southern Shan state. Today vast swathes of the northern and eastern frontier region are experiencing upheaval as more ethnic armies fend off aggression from the central government. The ties between the latest wave of conflict and Burma’s booming, largely foreign-financed, energy projects (particularly in Kachin and Shan states) have been extensively analysed, but given its distance from the main areas of conflict, most people have tiptoed around the issue of the massive Tavoy deep-sea port development in the far south.
As the Thailand-based Karen News reports, however, the proverbial wolves are closing in: 50 workers from the Thai engineering giant behind the project, Ital-Thai, were forced to flee to Thailand last week after fighting broke out close to a road being built to link Tavoy with the Thai town of Kanchanaburi – a prime example of the “material risks” ERI warns about. Karen News also said the construction camp was hit by artillery.
The Karen National Union, which the Burmese government has been battling for six decades and whose attack on a Burmese army camp triggered the Ital-Thai exodus, later warned that “[a]ny company that does not get KNU official permission and confiscates land belonging to villagers will be regarded as military dictatorship-backed companies”. Chinese workers at hydropower sites in Kachin state have also experienced similar animosity from armed groups.
One of the chief accusations levelled at foreign companies working in Burma is that their money helps to keep rulers and business cronies in positions of power, thereby maintaining the status quo. ERI deftly turned the focus onto the pockets and (red) faces of these companies, whom despite seeing major profits from working in such a poorly regulated environment have faced boycotts, problems with in-country mobility of staff and vitriolic animosity from civilian populations. Seldom however has one been mooted as a military target, meaning that Ital-Thai, which candidly admitted that 10,000 people will be displaced in and around Tavoy, potentially faces greater hurdles.
What these energy-related conflicts also nurture is greater scrutiny by the general public over investment in Burma, aided by growing networks of civil society monitoring groups inside the country and campaigners and journalists outside. As ERI notes, this heightens reputational risks for multinationals (Ital-Thai has already been driven out of the Map Tha Put project in Thailand), as was the case for oil giants Total and Chevron, who generated $US969 million in revenue for the junta in 2007, the same year that Burmese troops shot and killed around 100 protesting monks and civilians.
English.news.cn 2011-08-01 11:06:18 YANGON, Aug. 1 (Xinhua) — Myanmar announced Monday convening of the second regular sessions of the three-level parliament on Aug. 22.
The announcements were respectively made by the Union Parliament, Parliament House of Representatives (Lower House) and Parliament House of Nationalities (Upper House).
The summon for the second regular sessions of the three-level parliament came six months after the first parliament sessions were held on Jan. 31.
The second regular sessions are expected to discuss issues such as amendment of some laws.
On July 27, Myanmar’s Union Election Commission, led by U Tin Aye, met leaders of political parties in Nay Pyi Taw as the first gathering in the post-election period.
Matters relating to observance of state constitution, existing rules and regulations, orders and directives as well as holding parliamentary election to refill some vacant posts were said to have been addressed by the election commission.
The commission was formed on March 30, 2010 for handling the year’s Nov. 7 multi-party general election.
English.news.cn 2011-07-31 12:12:04
YANGON, July 31 (Xinhua) — Myanmar will coordinate with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in adjusting its foreign exchange rate in a bid to stabilize the domestic foreign exchange trading market, a local media reported Sunday.
It was disclosed after a workshop in this regard was held between Myanmar’s Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Central Bank in Yangon, said the Voice.
The need for the adjustment to facilitate the country’s economic and financial links with the international and development of domestic foreign exchange market was stressed by Union Minister of Finance and Revenue U Hla Tun.
When meeting with the Bank Administration Committee and the Bankers’ Association in Nay Pyi Taw recently, U Hla Tun disclosed that a payment system development committee of the bankers’ association will be formed with local and foreign experts and organizations to update the country’s payment system.
Myanmar became a member of IMF and World Bank in 1952, but they suspended providing financial aid to Myanmar since 1987.
Myanmar’s foreign exchange rate against U.S. dollar was traditionally designated as around 6 Kyats per U.S. dollar since 1975, while the market exchange rate fluctuated between 780 and 1, 000 Kyats per dollar for the past several years.
In face of the great gap between the official and market exchange rate, experts view that if suitable rate is officially readjusted, it will facilitate the work flow of economic entrepreneurs.
Roundup: Myanmar To Readjust Official Forex Rate To Stabilise Domestic Trading Market
YANGON, Aug 1 (Bernama) — Myanmar is deliberating to readjust its official foreign exchange rate in a bid to stabilize domestic foreign exchange trading market, Union Minister of Finance and Revenue U Hla Tun said.
In a meeting with the Bank Administration Committee and the Bankers’ Association in its capital Nay Pyi Taw recently, he stressed that the readjustment is aimed at facilitating the country’s economic links with the international and development of domestic foreign exchange market.
He added that a payment system development committee of the bankers’ association will be formed with local and foreign experts and organizations to update the country’s payment system, according to China’s Xinhua news agency on Monday.
A latest report also said Myanmar will coordinate with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the move which was disclosed after a workshop in this regard was held between Myanmar’s Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Central Bank.
Myanmar became a member of IMF and World Bank in 1952 but they suspended providing financial aid to Myanmar since 1987.
Myanmar’s foreign exchange rate against U.S. dollar was traditionally designated as around 6 Kyats per U.S. dollar since 1975, while the market exchange rate fluctuated between 780 and 1, 000 Kyats per dollar for the past several years.
In face of the great gap between the official and market exchange rate, experts view that if suitable rate is officially readjusted, it will facilitate the work flow of economic entrepreneurs.
Early this month, U.S. dollar picked up a little in value in Myanmar after sharp drop and remained relatively steady against Kyat, exchanging at around 810 Kyats per dollar in the first half of this month but fell again in the second half to as low as 768 Kyats per dollar up to date, according to market survey.
U.S. dollar once fell sharply to as low as 780 Kyats per dollar in June from 820 Kyats per dollar in May.
The USD-Kyat exchange rate at between 800 and 900 Kyats per dollar had prevailed for half a year since December last year.
It started to fall from 900 kyats per dollar in early last December to 830 Kyats in the beginning of 2011 but it picked up to 900 Kyats again in late February. However, the rate kept falling to 820 Kyats until the end of May.
Exporters were affected due to the fall of U.S. dollar for the past six months’ period.
Demand for USD did rise in Myanmar in August 2010 with the market exchange rate against Myanmar Kyat once standing at as high as 1,010 Kyats per dollar, However, it fluctuated until now.
Meanwhile, Myanmar economists have stressed the need to introduce sufficient number of money changers across Yangon’s road corners as part of the efforts to promote tourism sector in the country.
Despite some improvement in Myanmar’s tourist sector in the past and good prospects in the future, the difficulty of introducing such money changers may hinder the development of the sector, experts said.
The experts added that the officially-opened public foreign exchange counters trading at the market rate in Myanmar are less than necessary as compared with abroad as most tourists depend most on them with trust.
At a time when depreciation of the value of U.S. dollar occurred, causing loss with exporters, Myanmar has cut commercial tax for exporters by 3 percent from 8 percent with income tax of 2 percent remaining unchanged starting July to encourage export and raise import.
The cut has made an exporter to have to pay commercial tax of 5 percent only plus 2-percent income tax totaling 7 percent instead of 10 percent previously for the undertaking.
Myanmar’s foreign trade went up to USD15 billion in the fiscal year 2010-11 from USD11.8 billion in 2009-10, according to official statistics.
From Kocha Olarn, CNN
August 1, 2011 — Updated 0245 GMT (1045 HKT)
Bangkok (CNN) — Thai authorities have released 70 women and girls originally from Laos and Myanmar following a trafficking raid in southern Thailand.
District police and Thai special investigators raided a karaoke bar and a spa Friday night, said Lt. Col. Noppadon Petsut, deputy police chief of Sadao district.
Forty-one of the females released had been forced into prostitution, Petsut said.
The other 29 were willfully working as prostitutes and were fined and released.
Of those forced into prostitution, about 20 trafficking victims are under age 18, Petsut said.
Thai police arrested five suspects — three Thais, one Malaysian and one Singaporean, Petsut said. All were detained and charged with human trafficking and illegally allowing illegal migrants to stay in Thailand.
The raid took place after the Department of Special Investigation received a call from the Laotian embassy in Bangkok saying there were Laotians being forced into prostitution, Petsut said.
Fort Wayne News-Sentinel – Former Burmese political prisoner chosen for U.N. input
He will attend conferences in Washington, D.C.
By Ellie Bogue of The News-Sentinel Myo Myint, a political refugee from Burma now living in Fort Wayne, has been selected to attend the United Nations Refugee Congress next week in Washington, D.C.
This is the first year for the refugee congress being hosted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The congress will act as a voice for the 3 million refugees who have found protection in the United States over the past 60 years, and it will commemorate the 1951 Convention of Refugees. Over the two days, the congress will address various refugee issues and try and come up with solutions that will be presented to the UNHCR Ministerial meeting, the administration and the Congress of the United States, and other refugee program players. Fifty delegates, one from each state, and another 10 notable refugees will attend.
The congress will have four workshops, in which delegates will discuss different areas of refugee resettlement: pre-departure and initial resettlement; social, economic and cultural integration; support and protection for refugees outside the U.S.; and the refugee voice in the U.S. and beyond the refugee congress.
Myo Myint said he is particularly interested in discussing support and protection for refugees outside the U.S. Burma – which the ruling military junta has renamed Myanmar – has refugees in countries all around the world including large populations in China and Malaysia, and some in Bangladesh.
According to Myo Myint, recently some of the refugees in Bangladesh were shot and killed for no apparent reason. In October, The New York Times reported that Burmese refugees there were being beaten and deported while thousands were living in squalor in crowded refugee camps. Myo Myint said in Malaysia more than 1 million Burmese work as migrant laborers, some illegally.
He is also interested in discussing pre-departure and resettlement. Before he came to the United States he went through an application process and was interviewed by the Department of Homeland Security. Fortunately he spoke enough English that he realized when the translator who was helping with the interview translated a crucial statement wrong. He had been asked why he was coming to the country, and he had told the translator he had been a political prisoner in Burma.
The translator told the interviewer that Myo Myint had been a prisoner, but he left out “political.” Myo Myint clarified the error. Had he not, it could have jeopardized his application. He said for Burmese or ethnic groups who don’t even speak Burmese, much less English, this can be critical; bad translation can get valid applicants rejected.
Those who do make it through the application process are given exactly five days of cultural orientation before they leave for America.
Myo Myint said once he got to Fort Wayne he was given only five more hours of orientation. It was enough for him because he had studied American culture before coming here, but for those who haven’t, it just isn’t enough.
In addition to attending the congress, Myo Myint will also be attending the annual Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) 2011 National Consultation on Monday and Tuesday. There he plans to discuss the importance of refugees taking English as a Second Language classes.
Myo Myint said people who have been living two or three generations in refugee camps are used to being subsidized. When they come here, they only have 90 days of federal support, and then they must apply to the local townships for support. In Norway, Burmese refugees are supported for two years while they take mandatory Norwegian language classes.
If they refuse, they are asked to leave the country. Although Myo Myint isn’t advocating the same sort of plan here, he sees language classes as critical in the assimilation of the Burmese into the local population.
“Some of them think they won’t have to work here, but that is not case, and you must speak English to get a job,” Myo Myint said.
By Indo Asian News Service | IANS – 1 hour 13 minutes ago
New Delhi, Aug 1 (IANS) Ranjan Mathai, India’s former ambassador to France, Monday took over as India’s foreign secretary.
‘The foreign secretary is as much an institution as an individual. So I will continue this effort,’ said Mathai, who succeeds Nirupama Rao, India’s next ambassador to the US.
On the India-Pakistan front, he said: ‘My mandate is substantive dialogue on all issues of common concerns.’
Mathai will have a two-year term.
A 1974 batch Indian Foreign Service officer, Mathai has held a string of high-profile diplomatic positions. He was India’s ambassador to Israel February 1998 to June 2001, and to Qatar August 2001 to July 2005.
A veteran diplomat, he was joint secretary dealing with India’s relations with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and the Maldives from January 1995 to February 1998.
He has also served in the Indian embassies in Vienna, Colombo, Washington, Tehran and Brussels.
Mathai, who completed his postgraduate studies in political science at the University of Poona, was India’s deputy high commissioner to Britain in London from August 2005 to January 2007.
Rakesh Sood, India’s ambassador to Nepal, will succeed Mathai as New Delhi’s envoy in Paris.
By Indo Asian News Service | IANS – 3 hours ago
Imphal, Aug 1 (IANS) At least five people were killed and 20 injured in a powerful explosion Monday at a crowded marketplace in the capital of India’s restive northeastern state of Manipur, officials said.
A police spokesperson said the blast took place around 2.15 p.m. at the busy Sangakpham area on the outskirts of Imphal.
‘The bomb was probably planted on a parked scooter and was of high intensity,’ Manipur police chief Y. Joykumar Singh said.
‘So far, five people were killed and about 20 injured. The injured were shifted to local hospitals with multiple wounds.’
The multi-purpose market was teeming with people when the explosion took place.
‘Most of those injured or killed were either shoppers or vendors,’ Singh said.
Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh, who also holds the home portfolio, visited the spot and ordered an inquiry.
No militant group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack.
‘We are yet to identify the group responsible for the blast,’ the state police chief said.
Police, however, said the explosion is part of an offensive ahead of India’s Independence Day celebrations Aug 15.
There are an estimated 19 militant group active in Manipur, bordering Myanmar, with demands ranging from secession to greater autonomy.
All the rebel armies have called for a boycott of the national day celebrations accusing New Delhi of exploiting the region.
Militant groups in Manipur and most of the northeastern states have long been boycotting Independence Day or Republic Day celebrations and have all along been targeting security forces and vital installations, including explosions in the run-up to such national functions.
By Kavi Chongkittavorn
Published on August 1, 2011
It was amazing that given their cordial ties, China and Asean took almost a decade to agree on the guidelines for their conducts over the disputes South China Sea.
With it, they can now begin to work together on various confident building measures and joint proposed projects in the huge unsettled maritime territory.
Meeting ahead of their foreign ministers in Bali recently, the Asean-Chinese senior officials crossed the last hurdle on the following sentence in the paragraph 2 of the guidelines: “The Parties of DOC will continue to promote dialogue and consultations in accordance with the spirit of the DOC.”
The Declaration of Code of Conduct of Concerned Parties in South China Sea, or DOC in short, was agreed in 2002 in Phnom Penh as a means to peaceful settlement of the conflict and for future cooperation among all claimants comprising China, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines. Asean hopes to transform the declaration to a binding code of conduct in the near future.
At Bali, China and Asean decided to drop their previous demands which blocked past negotiations. Asean, especially Vietnam, consistently asked to put in black and white that Asean members “would consult among themselves before meeting with China.” Having fought numerous wars with China throughout thousands of years of coexistence, Vietnam wanted the dispute be settled between China and Asean as a group. China does not accept this formulation with the argument that the problem is between China and the Asean claimants. In the beginning, Beijing wanted the whole sentence deleted altogether but changed its mind last month. The frequently asked question was: why both side agreed now? Four reasons stand out.
First, the political landscape in the region has changed dramatically due to intense participation from the US after its 2009 ascension to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) and China. Other powers such as India and Russia are also interested but they are more benign. Therefore, China no longer enjoys exclusive relations with Asean. At the forthcoming East Asia Summit in mid-November, their real strategic interests would be revealed through issues they bring up. For instance, in the areas of maritime security, they can raise future challenges of keeping the disputed area free and safe. The current chair, Indonesia, must also address pivotal issues pertaining to Asean maritime security needs.
Second, China knew all along that the conflict would get a huge play when Asean was under the Vietnamese tutelage last year. But it had little influence with its lobbying efforts even though Hanoi was also the coordinator of Asean-China ties. When Thailand chaired Asean in 2009, the hosts did play down the dispute, reiterating it was the bilateral issue between China and Asean. The results of Asean meeting in Bali last month has also cooled down the rhetoric.
Now China is looking forward to lesser stressful three years from now on, which it would use the period to shape anew future Asean-China ties. What the next Asean chair, Cambodia, plans to do will be pivotal. Granted their excellent ties with Beijing since 2000, Phnom Penh’s attitude on the dispute would be extremely cautious to avoid any label of internationalization. It will be closely watched by its claimant neighbors. When Brunei chairs Asean in 2013, obviously there will not be any disruption of Asean-China ties albeit it is one of the claimants. So is 2014 whether it will be Burma’s turn or other members’.
Third, the Chinese and Asean leaders have pledged all along that as strategic dialogue partnership, they would work together to promote peace and prosperity in the region. Both have been embarrassed by the lack of progress in the past nine years over the troubled sea. Worse, this year supposes to be the zenith of their friendship marking the 20th anniversary. So, the only consolidation is to agree on the guome to shoves – in front of enthusiastic and spectators – they would diligently iron out differences.
In 2006 in Shinya, China, they agreed on a series of joint cooperation project but they were not implemented. Unfortunately, high-octane negativism dominated the first half of this year. Strong verbal exchanges and assertive diplomatic endeavors are visible from key claimants. China’s quarrels with the Philippines and Vietnam were considered low points of the Asean-China ties since March 1995 over the Mischief Reefs. Lesson learnt is clear: China and Asean can no longer arguing back and forth endlessly over the prospects of their cooperation over the South China Sea. The Philippines and Vietnam are not willing to stay idle.
Fourth, the reduction of US-China diplomatic tension also impacts on the region. As the Asean chair last year, Vietnam helped to refocus the South China Sea quagmire. The loud decibel since last July was due to the strong US reactions which immediately wiping up interests and potential dangers in the South China Sea. Strange as it may see, this brinkmanship game has already subdued as the two superpowers addressing their more important broader strategic issues including financial cooperation. Current US fiscal crisis does not in anyway strengthening its positions and policies in the Asean scheme of things. Quite noticeable, US State Secretary Hilary Clinton comments on South China Sea in Bali were far more friendly and positive than the previous year so was Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi’s responses.
Beyond the above political maneuverings, any legal solution will essentially depend on the claimants’ overall intention. There is no consensus at the moment. Several ideas have been floated ranking from the outside arbitrator such as the International Court of Justice to the one of its own, the High Council under the TAC as conflicting partners are all signatories. Any of them can raise the issue at the council, which has never been invoked. For the time being, the ideal peaceful solution is to skip the sovereignty claims and revisit what they agreed previously – no matter how little – and seriously implement them as soon as possible. Otherwise, the undercurrent can turn into a tsunami at the most unpredictable time!.
1 Aug 11 @ 06:46am by Tim Michell
KILSYTH’S Pah Day had to flee war-torn Burma but keeps going back to help those left behind.
Mr Day, 38, spent 11 years living in a Thai refugee camp before coming to Australia four years ago.
But he says the difficult experiences have only fuelled his determination to return home to deliver urgent medical supplies as part of Croydon Hills Baptist Church’s Hope Project.
The trip will be the second time Karen members of the church have returned to the border area. It is too dangerous to travel inside Burma.
“The Government draw the lines, so they (the Karen) find it difficult to even get their basic needs,” Mr Day said. “They have a policy where you can’t get in certain areas without any legal clearance.”
On his previous trip, Mr Day got the chance to hand out vital supplies in his old community, an experience he said was gratifying.
“In my heart, I really just want to help my people,” he said.
“The region I lived in faced a lot of problems. They targeted civilians because they knew that if they got to them the ethnic army would not survive.”
Church team leader Kathy Thompson said the group would face a difficult journey to the Thai-Burmese border.
Sydney – Australian police have been authorised to use force to get asylum seekers on board aircraft for their transfer to Malaysia, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said on Monday.
The first boatload of asylum seekers to fall under the terms of a recently signed migrant-swap deal with Malaysia arrived in Australia at the weekend after setting sail from Indonesia.
The 54 refugees – mostly Afghan, Iraqi and Iranian males – were to be held in a high-security compound on Christmas Island until they are flown to Kuala Lumpur.
“Obeying instructions is not a question of volunteering,” Gillard told the national broadcaster ABC when asked whether force would be used. “It means taking appropriate steps to get people to board the plane and disembark the plane at the other end.”
In a deal signed last week, Malaysia agreed to take the next 800 asylum seekers to land in Australia, who tend to be mostly from the Middle East.
In return, Kuala Lumpur is to send about 4 000 UN-approved refugees, mostly from Myanmar, in the other direction.
Gillard conceded her government could not yet meet its promise that asylum seekers would be on aircraft within three days of arrival because of delays in arranging accommodation in Kuala Lumpur.
“When the system is up and in full operation, those returns will happen in 72 hours,” she said but did not indicate when that might be.
Gillard has said sending some arrivals straight on to Malaysia would deter those waiting in Indonesia from paying people smugglers for a passage to Australia.
Opposition Liberal Party immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison said the deal would not deliver the desired outcome. He pointed out that since the deal was announced on May 7, 12 boats had arrived with a total of 621 asylum seekers.
An original proposal to apply the swap from May 7 was dropped, and the deal is to now only be applied to migrants landing in Australia after July 25 when the agreement was signed.
But if those 621 who arrived in the past three months had been sent on to Malaysia, Sydney would already be close to exhausting its quota under a deal that has drawn widespread condemnation in Australia and internationally.
R Dutta Choudhury
GUWAHATI, July 31 – The Government of India has decided to provide funds to Myanmar for implementation of several infrastructure projects in a bid to persuading the Government of that country to take action to evict the militants using the territory of that country as a safe haven.
Highly placed official sources in New Delhi told The Assam Tribune that for years, China has been able to make its mark in Myanmar by financing several infrastructure projects and only recently, the Government of India has realized the importance of coming closer to Myanmar. Sources said that time and again, the Government of Myanmar assured to take action against the militants using the territory of that country as safe haven, but so far, no concerted effort has been made in this regard.
Recently, the Government of Myanmar told India that the poor road condition affected movement of the troops to the area where the militants are taking shelter and after consultation with the Myanmar authorities, India has approved a series of road projects in that country. Sources said that the Government of India has approved several road projects on principle and the technical estimates are now being prepared and in addition to financing the projects, India would also provide technical support if necessary.
Interestingly, the Government of India has not yet been able to improve infrastructure on Indian side of the international border with Myanmar, which seriously affected the performance of the Assam Rifles personnel deployed to guard the international border. In some places, the Assam Rifles was forced to set up the camps well inside the Indian territory instead of setting it up on the international border because of the poor infrastructure and there is urgent need for improving the road condition in the area, sources added.
Meanwhile, sources revealed that according to an estimate of the security forces, at least seven thousand militants belonging to different North East based groups are taking shelter in Myanmar. Though the militants are not receiving any help from the authorities of Myanmar, no major operation has yet been launched by the Government of that country as yet to evict the militants.
Sources said that according to inputs available, the Manipur based groups have come under a united front recently for operational purpose and if all the militants taking shelter in Myanmar join hands in the days to come, it would become a potent force. The unification move is believed to have started with a view to receiving assistance from China as according to intelligence inputs, some Chinese officials recently made it clear to the leaders of the militant outfits that they could expect help only if they join hands and no Chinese agency would be willing to help the militant groups individually.
By Michael Tsai
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jul 30, 2011
John Nyunt figures he’ll have three to five minutes to tell his story, 10 if he’s really lucky.
He could be afforded an entire afternoon and it wouldn’t be enough to convey to his Capitol Hill audience just the reasons why he so boldly stood up to the military government in Myanmar all those years ago, or the fortitude it took to survive the seven dehumanizing years he spent as a political prisoner, or the joy he now feels as a full-fledged American citizen.
But he’ll try.
Nyunt, 58, is one of 50 refugees selected to represent their adopted state at the first Refugee Congress, scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday in Washington. The historic gathering, organized by the United Nations Refugee Agency, is intended to shed light on the grim political and social realities of the various countries from which the refugees fled as well as the refugees’ contributions to their new country.
“I will have to summarize my thoughts,” Nyunt said. “But I want people to know that I am very happy to be in a country where there is democracy and where I can speak freely about my experiences.”
Nyunt is an assistant manager at 7-Eleven, a job for which he is grateful but also one that is far removed from his old standing as a widely respected lawyer and political activist in what was then known as the Socialist Republic of Burma. Although many of the details of his previous life have been lost to time and his own proclivity to focus on the present, his recollection of the spirit that drove him and his fellow activists to risk beatings, imprisonment and death remains pristine.
Nyunt’s first name originally was Khin, but he changed it to John. He was a young but influential community leader in the summer of 1988 when student-led protests in Yangon galvanized a restless citizenry against the entrenched socialist government. Shrugging off harassment and the occasional beating by police, Nyunt addressed the rapidly growing crowds every day, imploring his fellow citizens to be courageous in their pursuit of democracy.
Away from the podium, Nyunt threw his support behind the National League for Democracy and its charismatic leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
The demonstrations ended with a violent military coup, the repeal of Burma’s constitution and the imposition of martial law. And while Suu Kyi’s party won a convincing 59 percent of votes in a 1990 democratic election (ensuring 80 percent of Parliament seats), the military government invalidated the results and retained control of the country.
Yet Nyunt remained unbowed in his personal fight for what he believed to be just. After successful legal action on behalf of citizens whose lands had been seized (outright or with minimal compensation) by the government, Nyunt challenged a powerful major who also had benefited from an illegal seizure of private land.
Shortly thereafter Nyunt was summoned to appear before a board of military leaders who warned him that he would be imprisoned if he didn’t rescind his threat of legal action.
“I said that we had laws and regulations and what they were doing was unfair,” Nyunt said. “They punched the table and threatened me, but I just said, ‘It’s OK. I’m waiting.'”
He didn’t have to wait long. Late that same night a group of men pulled up to Nyunt’s home and arrested him.
Before they took him to the police station for official processing, the men stuffed Nyunt into a reeking underground trash hole and left him there without food for four days.
A perfunctory trial was eventually held, and Nyunt was sentenced to seven years for his anti-government actions.
Still, he could have avoided jail if he were willing to help the government build a case against the popular Suu Kyi. According to Nyunt, a government official told him that if he signed an affidavit linking Suu Kyi to a cache of arms supposedly confiscated by the government, he would be free to go home.
“It was made-up history,” he said. “They wanted me to lie and I wouldn’t do it. I would never do it.”
Instead, Nyunt spent the first three months of his sentence in solitary confinement.
“There was no light, no restroom, no shower,” he recalled. “I slept on bricks. Sometimes I could hear other prisoners being beaten with sticks. After one month I had psychosis.”
Life in the general prison population was scarcely better. Nyunt said he and his fellow prisoners were forced to live in their own filth and had to bat the vermin from their food if they wanted to eat.
Nyunt was released in 1999 and was able to make it to Guam on a visa waiver. There he spent nine months waiting for his application for political asylum to be approved.
From Guam, Nyunt moved to Indiana, then New York, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Los Angeles and eventually Hawaii.
“When I was young, I wanted to go to so many different places,” he said. “I kept looking for a better job, and along the way I got to see a lot of the country.”
Nyunt’s former wife and two sons chose to remain in Myanmar. And while he said he would like to return one day for a visit, Nyunt — who became an official U.S. citizen last February — says his home is in Hawaii.
“Becoming a U.S. citizen was the proudest moment of my life,” he said. “I am happy to be in a country that observes human rights, and I want to stay here for the rest of my life. Here I can speak freely and tell people, ‘This is my life.'”
The Star Online – Is Asean now at sea?
By BUNN NAGARA Grouping continues to invite others to its feast, even if it may have too much on its plate.
ASEAN leaders need more self-esteem without constantly craving reassurance from others, if they are to live up to the promise of the regional organisation.
After all, self-reliance is supposed to be a buzzword for Asean. And like all the best regional organisations, it was conceived in hope – hope that it would help bring about better times for all.
Yet Asean has long treasured its international image, where to be ignored or deemed irrelevant by others seems worse than being trumped. It particularly seems to value approval by past colonial powers.
Thus the sense of triumphalism during the week that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) had mentioned Asean in deliberating over the Preah Vihear temple dispute between Cambodia and Thailand.
The dispute involves two Asean countries after all, so the court’s mention of Asean is not exactly extraordinary. Actually, if the ICJ has indeed made Asean a factor in any impending dispute settlement, there might be reason for concern.
First, Asean will be put on notice that it needs to do all it can to solve the problem. But there is little assurance that Asean can deliver.
This means, second, that Asean’s likely failure to satisfy will reflect badly on it and all that it represents. Questions about Asean’s purpose, effectiveness and relevance may resurface.
There is no doubt that Asean wants the dispute settled, and anything it can do about it will be welcomed. The problem is that Asean’s dispute-settling mechanism is still limited, if not inadequate, and certainly not as well equipped as a dedicated institution like the ICJ.
Cambodia and Thailand responded positively to the ICJ order to withdraw troops from the disputed temple area. As both countries may feel a sense of entitlement in Asean, however, it is doubtful if they would have acted similarly if a request for that came from the Asean Secretariat.
With Cambodia and Thailand jointly forming a fifth of the Asean membership, there is also the conflict of interest factor. Besides, there is no shortage of issues that Asean has to address.
Compared with the range of challenges confronting Asean, the strip of border territory around Preah Vihear is a trifling matter. The fact that both countries have allowed it to fester this far shows how far Asean collectively still has to go.
Naval manoeuvres in the South China Sea continue to be unsettling for some. Even if they are largely seen as initiated by China, some regional responses have not always helped.
Vietnam is among some half-dozen claimaints to disputed maritime territory in the area. But it has got ahead of itself, and of Asean preparedness, in meeting a perceived challenge.
Even the United States has been made uneasy with the tenor in the high seas. The Philippines, another claimant, is not far behind in lacing nationalism with bravado.
President Benigno Aquino III is prodding the rest of Asean to be firm with China, while seeking to add maritime purchases to the Philippine Navy. However, China will know that these are merely postures for home consumption by one of Asean’s weakest naval powers.
But whether or not Beijing will soon launch its first aircraft carrier, neither the United States nor anyone else will want to make waves about it. Just as Asean does not want to have to choose between the United States and China, the United States also does not want to have to choose between Asean and China.
Instead of vying to propose peaceful solutions, claimants over disputed maritime territory are competing to strike combative postures. If that continues, all will be the poorer for it.
Another issue for Asean to consider is the still-tentative prospect of North Korea’s controversial nuclear weapons programme.
Although the issue strictly lies outside South-East Asia, it is very much at the centre of Asean’s larger East Asia perspective. It is also something of an obstacle for the Asean Regional Forum.
Several other countries – China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States – comprise the six-party formula with North Korea to resolve the issue, but the formula has been drifting into oblivion. It is now supposed to be back, but in a convoluted fashion with North-South dialogue first, then US-Pyongyang talks, and only then resumption of six-party talks.
Asean countries like Malaysia had in the past hosted North-South talks, and Asean had also served as impetus and catalyst for broader progress on the Korean peninsula. But distant as a six-party solution is for now, the other five countries are not expecting much, if any, contribution from Asean this time.
One issue that Asean cannot duck is Myanmar’s intention to chair the Asean Standing Committee in 2014. When it was its turn to chair Asean before, Myanmar consented to pass over the privilege because of its political “problems” at home.
But now democratic icon Aung San Suu Kyi has been released from house arrest and there has been an election. The military junta has also retreated behind a semblance of civilian rule, although widespread disquiet over the recent election remains.
Naypyidaw is claiming “mission accomplished” and is about to collect on its Asean chairmanship. Suddenly, a very subjective judgment on its political reforms has to decide on the objective prospect of its Asean chair.
Not so very long ago, Asean was embarrassed for having Myanmar as a member. Now it has to cope somehow with the challenge of Myanmar’s likely chairmanship.
The Philippines, Singapore and Thailand are most agitated over that prospect. But even if they are joined by another six Asean members, it is unlikely things will get any easier for Asean.
All these issues are set to be a liability for Asean’s image if not also its substance. They challenge Asean to perform, deliver and otherwise succeed, stretching its capacities as well as its credibility.
Jul 29, 2011 Yangon’s Shwedagon pagoda has been ransacked, conquered, stripped of its jewels and melted down for the layers of gold leaf laid by dedicated monks countless times over the years. But ever since it was built in the sixth century, the “golden pagoda” has remained one of South-east Asia’s most extraordinary monuments.
There are hundreds of worshippers assembled even at five in the morning, and the sound of chanting soars over the kilometre-long platform that runs around the shining structure.
Monks scurry like worker bees, cleaning, polishing and adding yet more gold. Then the sun comes up and you have the choice of putting on your sunglasses to watch the dazzling sight or turning around to admire the pilgrims bask in the pagoda’s majesty. Even the black ravens in the eaves seem to stop and stare.
It was the last thing I did in Myanmar, but it’s the first I describe because the religion it represents is the focus of every place I visited – and almost every person I met.
I’m on Orient Express’s Road to Mandalay boat for a cruise down the Irrawaddy River, and my itinerary runs something like this: our first stop is Mandalay, which used to be the capital about 100 years ago; we then head to Sagaing Hill, where most of the residents sought refuge and hid during the First World War; then on to historic Bagan, founded in 162 AD; before ending in Yangon, where the colonial government was based.
Sam, my guide on the boat, tells me he’s biding his time before he can become a monk. An only son, he needs to provide an income to look after his mother in Yangon. His job means regular visits to the monastic centre near Sagaing Hill, home to 200,000 monks. It is where Sam wants to spend the rest of his life.
According to Sam, most people in Myanmar donate nearly a quarter of their income to religious charity. I can well believe it. At daybreak on the first morning, several of us accompany him and the rest of the crew to give out alms in the village of Anapura, where our boat is docked. Alms-giving is a daily ritual, and I observed it three times during my stay here as well as in neighbouring Laos. Each time, I notice something different: this time it is the eyes of the proud old monk leading the monks in height order – from lanky to grasshopper – on their march through the village. I witness a special moment pass between the old man and Sam, who later tells me he had served with the veteran as a novice when he was just nine years old.
There are more than 400,000 monks in Myanmar, but we usually hear about the 400,000 soldiers. I see only one soldier during my week there. I admit I was on the lookout, my preconceptions coloured by the news I had seen and heard so far: blurry camcorder shots of the crackdown on the rioting monks in 2007; romanticised pictures of Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader; and those awful images of the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, which devastated the south of the country and left 130,000 people dead a little over two years ago.
My arrival in Myanmar coincides with the beginning of the Chinese Year of the Rabbit. The rabbit symbolises rebirth, a chance to start again, and that is exactly what Myanmar’s government is trying to do: they want to double the number of people visiting each year from its current handful of businessmen, charity workers, intrepid tourists and undercover reporters. Right now, it gets about 500,000 visitors a year – and that is counting repeat entry.
The government’s re-genesis began last year with the release of Aung San Suu Kyi after 15 years under house arrest. The government offered an election, too, but most of the opposition boycotted it with accusations of corruption. There have also been moves to open up business links, but only via the hand of the generals in charge. In 2005, the capital was moved out of Yangon hundreds of kilometres away to Nay Pyi Taw. It is still mainly empty; people haven’t been forced to move there yet. But, as Sam points out, Myanmar’s rulers have shunted the capital around like chess pieces for thousands of years. Seen from a tourist’s point of view, this is fantastic. You don’t need an archaeologist to dig deep to find the remains of past generations. They are still standing abandoned all around the country.
Sam tells us all the juicy bits of history: Myanmar, for example, was the richest place in Asia in the 1960s, and any leader for whom marauding, raping or pillaging was a favourite pastime found their way into the country at some point.
But it’s only when I stop listening to the tales and arrive in Bagan that I catch a glimpse of a different, more dishevelled Myanmar.
Waking up and looking out of my cabin porthole at the view that ancient Bagan offers will, for me, always be a hard one to beat: thousands of stupas, in various states of repair, lie scattered across the horizon – some big, with their spires puncturing the mist, others hidden in dips in the ground or so completely swallowed by the fertile green around that you might end up going right past, thinking they are haystacks, until someone tells you to stop.
I have Zen to do just that. Zen, a boy I find hanging about the docks in Bagan, grew up in this historic city with the stupas as his playground. He jumps on a bicycle and attaches himself to me, using every bit of English he knows to make me laugh, until I stop and hire his know-how for the day. Along with a couple of other absconders from the tour bus that picks us up from the boat, I follow Zen on a long bike ride full of secret gardens and hidden Buddhas, pushing open doors that look as if they have been untouched for years. Zen claims to know the history of the stupas but cannot read properly because he has to work to feed his family – they come from a tribe that “the government doesn’t like”. Almost all the other people I had met so far were Burmese, the majority tribe. This is my first experience of the other side of Myanmar.
In Yangon, I encounter it again. There is Victoria, the homeless Catholic woman, who hops into my taxi with her umbrella to tell me about the oppression of the people in her church. There is the bespectacled fortune-teller with a huge Buddha tattooed across his chest, who politely says I cannot take his photo because “he would never be able to join his image outside the country”.
Looking around, it seems that, like the government, the people of Myanmar are working out their own ways to build links outside of the country. Well-known brands are plastered on every lamp post. And you can pay for everything in dollars, as long as the notes are brand new. Mandalay’s gold leaf factory dresses the stupas across the skyline. It takes 3,000 bangs to make a few tiny centimetres of bling – painstaking but holy work that I am told will be rewarded. And it has begun to, with an online-sales business to clients worldwide.
Everyone seems to be industrious in their pursuit of bettering their situation, from the tiny corner shops to the small offices that line every street. One businessman I speak to says “sanctions suck”, but doesn’t miss a beat before telling me there are plenty of ways around them.
Queries about going off the “Big Four” trail – Mandalay, Bagan, Yangon and Lake Inle (which I skipped on this journey) – will elicit a shaking head from many tour operators you meet. But I am assured by one, who has been running a top travel company in Yangon for five years, that it is easy enough. Despite popular belief, government approval is needed for only a few areas and can usually be gained on arrival. I make plans to come back and do exactly that.
But on to Laos. Ten years ago I spent a summer in the lesser-known parts of Vietnam and Cambodia. I had a fantastic time, but everywhere I went all I heard was how Laos was “Asia’s last kept secret”. But what I find is a country that has, in parts, been run over by the “Khao San Road” bus, its innermost sanctums laid bare and exposed.
Luang Prabang is where my journey through Laos begins. There is no direct way to get to Laos from Myanmar, so I flew from Yangon to Bangkok, then took a flight to Luang Prabang.
Luang Prabang was made famous by its dozens of Buddhist wats, or temples. But here, it is not religion but the ratio of restaurants to residential dwellings that makes our over-riding impression. And thus begins my pilgrimage for Laotian cuisine. I grow to enjoy its combination of Thai, Vietnamese and French influences, packing a punch with plenty of chilli in nearly every dish: fresh noodle soup, stuffed lemon grass fish steamed in banana leaves, beef cooked fondue-style in coconut juice, spicy English-style sausages. The morning markets are packed with food stalls selling a dozen different things, including grilled rats and canaries, if you fancy them.
From Luang Prabang I ride a bicycle – with no gears and a shaky basket on the front – along a tough but beautiful 32km stretch through cotton-weaving villages to Tat Kuang Si waterfall, its cool waters inviting after the long, dusty ride. I find a simple but clean guest house with a cooking class and its own tiny waterfall and, after a night’s rest, end up returning to Luang Prabang in a tuk-tuk, my thighs unable to pump me back home.
The next day, a five-hour winding journey from Luang Prabang brings us to Vang Vieng, on the edge of the Nam Song River river and surrounded by paddy fields and limestone mountains. The town is popular for its inventive water sports, notably tubing, which is immensely popular with gap-year teenagers. For those not in the know, it involves floating on the inner tube of a tyre down the Nam Song past a four-kilometre stretch of makeshift bars. I end up joining in the fun, and go down giant slides and zip lines into the slow-moving water below.
But it is my biking adventure out of the city and through tiny villages, into mountain caves and over swinging wooden bridges that creaked under my weight, that will remain in my mind.
The journey comes to an end in the quiet capital, Vientiane. Here, the little corner shops are stuffed with art quite unlike the kind found in the touristy markets of the region, and I quickly fill my bag with purchases. Young apothecaries offer us a choice of dried gecko, turtle tongue or a pile of bootleg DVDs hidden under the counter. I wander through the streets, trying different dishes morning, noon and night.
Over lunch one day, I am introduced to “the best singer in Laos” – “Little Sunshine” Noi, who is trying to set up a music and theatre school for the disabled but hasn’t the money to bribe the right official. She gives me a private performance, singing and playing on a traditional harp, and presents me with a book of ancient Laotian myths that recounts a time before the country became known as the most bombed in the world during and after the Vietnam War. One of the tales is about a stupa in the centre of the city where a dragon is supposed to be sleeping. It rises up and defends the stupa against invaders. I can’t help but joke that the beast should make an appearance again should the tourists try to take over.
By AUNG ZAW Monday, August 1, 2011
Despite mounting criticism of the new Burmese government’s do-nothing approach to political reform (and growing evidence that it is merely a front for the brutal junta that preceded it), Burma’s rulers continue to covet the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in 2014.
This has put the regional grouping in a bit of a bind. Strictly speaking, after 14 years as a member of Asean, Burma is entitled to its turn at the helm. After all, it has already been forced to forgo the chairmanship once, in 2006.
“Myanmar [Burma] has to focus on the national reconciliation process, and has requested their Asean colleagues to postpone its chairmanship for another occasion,” said Lao Foreign Minister Somsavat Lengsavat in 2005, the year the decision was made.
A great deal has happened since then—massive monk-led protests in 2007, Cyclone Nargis and a sham referendum in 2008, and last year’s dubious election and the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, among many other things—but “national reconciliation” isn’t one of them.
Last week, however, the new government made a familiar gambit clearly aimed at placating its critics: it invited Suu Kyi to meet with its “liaison minister” Aung Kyi, a former junta functionary who held the same position under the old regime.
But this token gesture isn’t going to make it any easier for Asean to decide how to proceed with Burma’s request for the chairmanship. Besides continuing allegations of war crimes in ethnic areas and the fact that there are still around 2,000 political prisoners behind bars in Burma, the new government’s leaders remain subject to sanctions in the US and EU, which are major Asean trading partners.
Last week in Jakarta, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton dashed any hopes that Naypyidaw might have had that merely playing the Suu Kyi card would suffice to convince anyone that the country is, at long last, moving in the right direction.
“We look to the government to unconditionally release the more than 2,000 political prisoners who continue to languish in prison,” she said, adding that the country’s rulers should also conduct meaningful and inclusive dialogue with the political opposition and ethnic minorities.
“The choice is clear,” she said. “They can take these steps and gain back the confidence of their people and the trust of the international community. Or they can continue down the path they’ve been on.”
Clinton also called on the military-backed civilian regime to address growing concerns about weapons proliferation. Washington has repeatedly expressed concern over Burma’s military ties with North Korea.
However, Clinton’s Indonesian counterpart, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, was much less forthright in stating what it would take for Burma to earn the trust and respect of the rest of Asean.
Indeed, when asked for his views on human rights and democratization in Burma, he was barely coherent: “Myanmar is obviously a work in process, in terms of democratization. To put it more—in a more—I guess—yes, I don’t want to use, describe it as a work in progress.”
Evidently, putting a positive spin on Burma’s current political situation has become such an enormous challenge that it leaves even seasoned regional leaders completely tongued-tied.
On the question at hand—whether Burma is fit to lead Asean—Natalegawa didn’t get himself quite so twisted out of shape, if only because he was able to resort to vaguer language:
“We have to see and have a sense of comfort level whether Myanmar is actually prepared and ready to assume chairmanship of Asean in 2014. I am aware—we are aware—of the responsibilities and the expectations that are inherent in a particular country chairing Asean.”
To test their “comfort level,” Natalegawa will lead an Asean delegation to Burma before the grouping makes a decision. When this will happen has not yet been decided, but Asean can’t afford to leave the question of its future leadership open for too long. That means that Burma will have to act soon to prove that it is ready to act on the demands of the Burmese people and the international community.
At this stage, however, the Burmese regime probably feels that it has done all that it is going to do.
At the same time, it will be harder to drop its bid for the chairmanship this time, since it won’t have the same face-saving excuses to rely on.
In other words, things are about to become very uncomfortable, for Asean and for Burma. But that is the price they will have to pay if they want to achieve their goal of moving forward.
By SAW YAN NAING Monday, August 1, 2011
Burmese authorities and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) held peace talks on Monday in Lajayang, Kachin State, with the aim of reaching a signed ceasefire agreement.
The discussion involved an official Burmese delegation led by Col Than Aung, leaders of the Kachin Consultative Council and KIO military wing the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), said KIO Joint-Secretary La Nan.
KIA leaders included vice-chief-of-staff Brig-Gen Sumlut Gun Maw and Battalion 4 commander Col Zau Raw, he added.
It has not been confirmed so far whether the KIO and Burmese delegation have reached an agreement, with Kachin sources saying further talks between the sides were likely in the event of a stalemate.
The discussions were based on a ceasefire proposal put forward by KIO leaders. Under the plan, both sides would adopt a temporary ceasefire in Kachin State and KIA-controlled regions with the aim of establishing a long-term peace.
The KIO and government would order their frontline troops to stop fighting within 48 hours of the agreement being signed. Furthermore, with the aim of establishing a long-term peace nationwide, the government must announce plans for a political dialogue within 15 days of the ceasefire.
Under the agreement, the KIO and government must let the other side know in advance if their troops are to move around. The agreement would be signed in both English and Burmese and be reviewed after one year. Both sides are also supposed to publicize the agreement after it has been signed.
Despite ceasefire talks being attempted between the KIO and government delegation, fighting in frontline areas is still reported in Kachin State. Last week, fighting with artillery mortar shells was reported between the KIA and Burmese troops in Bhamo Township.
Clashes were also reported in Taping region of Momauk Township on Sunday. The KIO claims that government troops also fired 60 mm mortars against KIA soldiers during the battle.
Monday, August 1, 2011
The junta’s proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has offered to provide ID cards for those people that do not currently hold one prompting accusations of electoral impropriety.
Former Rangoon Mayor Aung Thein Lin, who represents the USDP in South Okkalarpa Township, distributed a pamphlet bearing the party logo which said that people who do not have an ID card can apply for 10 kyats subsidy to complete the process.
“They have distributed this pamphlet in every ward in the township. They said they will help us to receive an ID card. They also warn people to avoid contacting brokers to help with the ID process,” said a resident living in Ward 7.
The USDP is also helping children apply for the 10-year-old and 18-year-old ID cards which costs six kyats (US $0.007), and reducing the cost of upgrading the 10-year-old to 18-year-old ID card to three kyats ($0.003). Reapplying for a lost ID card costs 10 kyats ($0.007).
Burmese citizens have to apply for 10-year, 18-year and 30-year ID cards depending on their age in accordance with immigration requirements.
“The cost will be sent to the immigration office. People don’t need to pay money to the party. If their document is adequate we will finish the process within one day or one month,” said a ward organizer from the USDP.
The process of issuing ID cards is the duty of the immigration department, and the USDP has been criticized by members of the Democratic Party (Myanmar) for using ID cards as a self-promotion tactic.
“According to election law, a political party cannot use government organizations for their own financial and business needs. If a party breaks this rule then it should be abolished.
Using the immigration department for party organizing is breaking election law. The Election Commission (EC) should take action about it,” said a Rangoon-based politician.
While meeting with political parties last month in Burma’s capital Naypidaw, EC Chairman Tin Aye said that coming elections will be more free and fair. However, in practice the USDP is doing party work with government resources which is not free or fair, said an observer.
The USDP is widely alleged to have taken part in vote-rigging during recent elections but no action has been taken against the party. Currently the most important administrative positions in ward and township level are in the hands of USDP members, claims a Rangoon-base reporter.
Thura Shwe Mann, the former Burmese military regime’s third-ranking official and head of the lower house in the new parliament, is now severing as vice-chairman of the ruling USDP.
The USDP will contest nearly 50 vacant seats in parliament in the upcoming by-election. The vacant places have arisen because some individuals in the parliament were chosen to be members of the government.
Monday, 01 August 2011 21:32 Tun Tun
New Delhi (Mizzima) – The Friends of Democracy group plans to move motions to clean up outdated laws when the next Burmese Parliament session convenes on August 22. Dozens of outdated laws could be included, said party officials.
As an example of outdated laws, Treasurer Saw Than Myint of the Shan Nationalities Development Party (SNDP), one of the parties in the 10-party coalition, told Mizzima: “Suppose I take a foreign trip then I need to exchange at least US$ 500. The money can not be my earnings from an export business, and if I hold foreign currency in Burma, it will be illegal and I can be prosecuted under the Foreign Exchange Law. In this age of globalization, such laws are irrelevant.”
According to the existing law, only sailors with foreign shipping companies and export-import businessmen can hold foreign exchange, making many residents who hold US dollars lawbreakers.
The Friends of Democracy group consists of the National Democratic Front (NDF), Democratic Party-Myanmar (DPM), Democracy and Peace Party, Union Democracy Party, and ethnic parties representing Karen, Shan, Mon, Chin and Rakhine.
A meeting has been scheduled for August 10 at the DMP office to gather more information on outdated legislation.
The NDF party also said it plans to move motions on political, social and economic issues and would submit about 30 bills during the forthcoming Parliament session. It said it could not disclose its motions before they are taken up in Parliament.
“In the last Parliament session, we could not move some of our motions because we disclosed our plans to the media before submitting them at the Parliament session,” said NDF member Khin Maung Swe.
The NDF submitted more than 20 motions at the first Parliament session, which started on January 31, including motions to release all political prisoners and granting amnesty. The motions were rejected.
Shan and Rakhine party members said that they would propose motions for peace and cease-fire agreements in the current armed conflicts.
“We will consider mediation by Parliament in the current and ongoing conflicts which have not yet achieved peace between the government and armed groups. This is a concern for everyone,” said Rakhine Nationality Development Party (RNDP) chairman Dr. Aye Maung.
NDF member Khin Maung Swen noted that the first Parliament session was called by the outgoing State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) government. He said, “The questions were answered by ministers of the old government, and they defended their policies and what they did. They made no promises to us based on our questioning. This forthcoming session will be called by the new president, and we hope we will get more specific answers and will see a clear-cut pattern to their policies and actions,” he added.
National Unity Party (NUP) leader Han Shwe said, “We will see the performance of the new government. In this Parliament session, the new government must answer based on its performance, how much they could do, what they could not do, how much they could implement, etc. This session will be the report card for this new government and it will show their weaknesses and strengths.”
According to sources close to the government, Lower House Speaker Shwe Mahn will encourage reform in the country and strengthening the role of Parliament in the forthcoming session.
In the last session, most of the motions and questions were rejected by Parliament, which was dominated by MPs from the government-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party. Parties were told to reintroduce the rejected motions in the next session of Parliament.
Monday, 01 August 2011 21:03 Phanida
Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – A young male civilian in Kamaing was shot dead and another man arrested by Burmese government troops on Sunday morning, residents said.
Marip Tang, about 17, from Kathan Yang village in Kamaing Township was shot dead by soldiers in government Infantry Unit No. 52 on the road to Hpakant in Kachin State. Kathan Yang village is six miles west of Kamaing.
Seng Du, who was identified as a telecommunications operator for the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), was arrested, residents said.
“At around eight o’ clock yesterday, government troops marched along the road and villagers were afraid and ran away, then the soldiers shot a villager in the back,” a resident told Mizzima.
Seng Du, who is from the deceased’s village, was roped and masked and taken away by government troops, residents said.
KIO joint secretary and spokesman La Nang confirmed that one civilian was shot dead, and it is investigating if Seng Du is a KIO member.
Seng Du was taken away in the direction of a mountain that local residents call “Microwave Mountain,” about one mile west of Kathan Yang village, where a communications office is located. Thirty security soldiers from government Brigade No. 3 are stationed on the mountain, sources said.
Six people including the head of Kathan Yang village were also arrested at the same time and released on Monday morning.
Monday, 01 August 2011 18:27 Kun Chan
Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Seven out of 14 government battalions surrounding Wanhai, the headquarters of the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP), have withdrawn, said SSPP spokesman Major Sai Hla.
Since Thursday, the seven battalions have pulled out coinciding with the reassignment of the Tactical Operation commander who was based in Kyethi Township, 18 miles from SSPP headquarters. He was reassigned to Regional Command, Major Sai Hla said. Currently, the remaining seven Burmese battalions are positioned three miles southeast and five miles west of Wanhai headquarters.
He said the reason for the troop withdrawal was not clear. It may be a temporary withdrawal designed to send back their depleted forces. SSPP sources said that during the 18-day government offensive that started on July 11, 100 government soldiers were killed, about 200 were injured and more than 50 deserted.
Because of the fighting, a total of 13 primary schools, a charity school and a high school from 20 affected villages in the area were closed. More than 1,000 students cannot attend schools and are taking refuge at safe locations.
On July 25, government officers sent two Buddhist monks, who are residents in the area, to Wanhai headquarters to mediate a cease-fire, but the SSPP rejected the offer, saying it was not serious.
The SSPP and the Kachin Independence Organization have both said that they want a nationwide cease-fire rather that separate cease-fire agreements with each armed ethnic group.
By PETER AUNG
Published: 1 August 2011
The world footballing body FIFA has ruled Oman winners of last week’s World Cup qualifying match in Rangoon, which was cancelled midway through the second half after Burmese fans pelted players with missiles.
FIFA is also preparing to penalise Burma for the fiasco, but details on precisely what measures it will take have not been released. The Myanmar Football Federation (MMF) is also yet to receive any official announcement from FIFA.
Oman will now progress into the next round, having led the game by two goals to nil at the time it was called off.
One coach and several players from the Oman team were injured by flying stones and water bottle during the rioting.
“[Projectiles] started landing near to where the Oman coaches were sitting so they panicked and ran onto the field – everything went from bad to worse,” a member of the crowd at the Thuwanna stadium told DVB on Thursday last week.
Soe Moe, information coordinator at the MMF, which is headed by business tycoon Zaw Zaw, said that “the dignity of Burma” was damaged by the fans’ behaviour.
“This is good for no one,” he said. “Now we have no more chances left as the game was forced to stop. It will only be damaging to us if we are to be banned [from holding international matches] for four, five or six years,” said Soe Moe.
“We will never get to see those top class teams playing in Burma. According to [FIFA] law, there is $US5000 fine for every object that lands on the field. Given that there were hundreds of thousands of objects landing in the field the other day, the MMF chairman will likely come home in a loincloth [Burmese expression for empty-handed].”
By MIN LWIN
Published: 1 August 2011 Former military intelligence agents released from prison in May have been told by the Burmese government that they cannot hold religious events, suggesting that distrust of the officials, who were jailed by former junta chief Than Shwe, lingers on in the new government.
Among those released were Major Sithu, a commander in Military Intelligence (MI) 6, and Major Hla Thet Maw, from MI7. A source told DVB that both men were blocked from gathering for a traditional Buddhist ceremony to offer robes to monks.
“Maybe [the government] is concerned about the reason for their gathering – they tend to keep a watchful eye on former MI’s,” he said.
Burma’s feared intelligence organ under Khin Nyunt, the former prime minister and intelligence chief, was disbanded in 2004 by Than Shwe. The majority of its operatives, including
Khin Nyunt, were charged with corruption and sedition, and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.
It is not clear exactly how many were released in May during an amnesty that saw all prison terms in Burma reduced by one year, although the 71-year-old Khin Nyunt and his wife remain under house arrest, while his sons are in prison.
Aung Linn Htut, former army attaché at the Burmese embassy in New York and one-time senior intelligence officer, who defected in 2005, said Thein Sein’s government is likely concerned that the former MIs would expose their dirty work under the former junta. Many of Thein Sein’s cabinet held top positions in the State Peace and Development Council, which disbanded following elections last year.
“It’s their paranoia,” Aung Linn Htut said. “When we gather, we immediately get each other’s message, even when we talk on phone – we know who’s heading in which direction.
“Mainly, they worry that [the former MIs] will expose their past wrongdoings. It’s mostly paranoia.”
Khin Nyunt, whose sentencing was attributed by analysts as an attempt to thwart his growing international influence and threat to Than Shwe’s iron-fisted rule, was handed a 44-year term under house arrest, while his two sons were given 51 and 68 years respectively.
The prison amnesty in May was widely condemned after it became clear that few of the nearly 2,100 political prisoners in Burma were released, despite consistent pressure on the Burmese government from world leaders.