(polls)

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BURMA RELATED NEWS – OCTOBER 01- 02, 2011
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AP – China Wants Talks After Myanmar Halts Dam Project
AFP – China raps Myanmar over dam project
AFP – US hails Myanmar’s halt to dam project
Time Magazine – In a Rare Reversal, Burma’s Government Listens to Its People and Suspends a Dam
Sydney Morning Herald – Irrawaddy about face raises hope that Burma gives a dam
Asian Correspondent – China must respect native people’s voice concerning the Myitsone dam in Burma
Pretoria News – Forgotten Burmese bourse gears for expansion from two listings
Xinhua – Thai PM to pay official visit to Myanmar
Hindustan Times – Where China and India merge
Spero News – Myanmar: Peace and amnesty: dialogue between Aung San Suu Kyi and Burmese government continues
Zee News – US says it maintains dual track policy on Myanmar
Bangkok Post – EDITORIAL: Winds of change or just a smokescreen?
The Financial Times – Reformists begin to make mark in Burma
Mizzima News – Speech on environment by cartoonist Aw P Kyel suspended
Mizzima News – Bauk Ja to sue Chinese company building Myitsone Dam project
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China Wants Talks After Myanmar Halts Dam Project
BEIJING October 1, 2011 (AP)
China urged Myanmar on Saturday to protect Chinese companies’ interests after the usually pliant Southeast Asian country surprisingly suspended a jointly backed, but much criticized, $3.6 billion dam project.Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei called on Myanmar to hold consultations to handle any problems with the Myitsone dam and reminded the Yangon government that both countries agreed to the project after rigorous reviews.

“The Chinese government … urges the relevant government to protect the legal and legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies,” Hong said in a statement carried on the ministry’s website.

Myanmar President Thein Sein’s Friday announcement of the suspension of the dam project, which has started construction, came after the dam project drew strong opposition from environmental activists and ethnic groups living near the site.

It was a turnabout in relations with China, which has poured billions of dollars of investment into the country to operate mines, extract timber and build oil and gas pipelines.

Some of China’s biggest companies are involved in the Myitsone project, among them China Power Investment Corp., which is providing financing; China Gezhouba Group Corporation, which is building the dam; and China Southern Power Grid Corp., which expects to buy most of the power generated.

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China raps Myanmar over dam project
By Allison Jackson | AFPNews – 10 hours ago
Beijing has urged Myanmar to protect the rights of Chinese companies after the government halted construction of a $3.6 billion China-backed mega dam following public opposition to the project.Myanmar President Thein Sein on Friday ordered work on the Myitsone Dam on the Irrawaddy River to stop — a decision hailed by the United States as a sign the military-backed leadership was listening to its people.

But Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei on Saturday urged “relevant countries to guarantee the lawful and legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies”.

“The Myitsone power station is a jointly invested project between China and Myanmar” and it has been “rigorously examined by both sides”, Hong said in a statement.
Hong called for both sides to “properly handle” the matter through “friendly consultations”.

China is Myanmar’s second-largest trading partner and biggest foreign investor, and the comments are a rare public display of discord between them.

The dam in the northern state of Kachin was backed by energy giant China Power Investment Corp and has attracted opposition from pro-democracy and environmentalists testing the limits of their freedom under the new nominally civilian regime.

In March Myanmar’s junta handed power to a new government whose ranks are filled with former generals.

Green groups have warned the dam project would inundate an area about the size of Singapore, submerging dozens of villages, displacing at least 10,000 people and irreversibly
damaging one of the world’s most biodiverse areas.

Friday’s announcement marked an unexpected U-turn by the Myanmar regime. Local media had quoted the minister for electric power as saying last month that construction of the dam would go ahead despite public concerns.

For the people of Kachin, the Myitsone dam has come to symbolise the struggles they have faced for decades as a marginalised ethnic group in the repressed nation under almost half a century of military rule.

Activists have urged China Power Investment to remove workers and equipment from the site and to allow local villagers who were forced to relocate to go home.

The Burma Rivers Network, a network of groups representing dam-affected communities, has also called for six other mega dams planned on the Irrawaddy’s tributaries to be scrapped.

In recent weeks fighting has erupted between ethnic rebels and government troops in the area.

In April a series of bomb blasts at the site of the Myitsone Dam destroyed cars and buildings and left one man wounded.

And in August state media accused ethnic fighters of shooting dead seven people, including civilian workers, at a different Chinese-run dam.

Energy-hungry China has been pouring money into the isolated state’s sizeable natural resources.

Activists warned last month that huge energy projects to transport oil and gas across Myanmar to China were fuelling human rights abuses, including forced labour, violence, evictions and land confiscation.

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US hails Myanmar’s halt to dam project
AFP – Fri, Sep 30, 2011

The United States on Friday praised Myanmar’s president for halting the construction of a mega dam, saying it showed the military-backed leadership was listening to its people.Myanmar President Thein Sein ordered work on a controversial $3.6 billion mega project to stop after rare public opposition to the Chinese-backed hydropower project.State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington welcomed the announcement and noted that Thein Sein said “in his statement that his concern was that this project contradicted the will of the Burmese people.

“So we consider it a significant and positive step that the Burmese government is endeavoring in this case to respond to the concerns of its people and also to promote national reconciliation at least on this issue.”

President Barack Obama’s administration — which embarked on engagement with Myanmar in addition to retaining sanctions against it — has welcomed signs of political change in the Southeast Asian nation also formerly known as Burma.

“We encourage the Burmese government to continue taking steps to respect and consider the interest of all its people including ethnic minorities, its democratic opposition, its civil society,” Nuland told reporters.

“And we hope that this kind of positive progress can continue,” she said.

The administration has already welcomed the leadership’s dialogue with democracy icon and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who was released from seven years of detention in November just days after a controversial election.

Suu Kyi has urged the authorities to review the project.

Resistance to the Myitsone Dam on the Irrawaddy River has been building as pro-democracy and environmental activists test the limits of their freedom under the new nominally civilian regime that followed the election.

Environmentalists warn the dam project would inundate an area about the size of Singapore, submerging dozens of villages, displacing at least 10,000 people and irreversibly damaging one of the world’s most biodiverse areas.

A senior US official said earlier this month the United States was studying the “clear winds of change blowing through Burma” to determine whether the two countries could “substantially improve” their relationship.

The official, however, reiterated that the United States still had “real concerns” in Myanmar, including the military’s “horrible brutalities” against ethnic minority guerrillas and the treatment of women.

The US State Department said meanwhile that senior department officials Derek Mitchell, Kurt Campbell and Michael Posner held “productive” talks here Thursday with Myanmar’s Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin.

It said the talks reflected Myanmar’s “willingness to discuss our core concerns including human rights, political prisoners, democracy, national reconciliation and nonproliferation.”
These concerns are “critical” to improving US-Myanmar ties, it added.

The State Department said it was Wunna Maung Lwin’s first visit to the State Department, but added that in 2009, then foreign minister Nyan Win visited Washington and in 2010, he met with State Department officials in New York.

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Time Magazine – In a Rare Reversal, Burma’s Government Listens to Its People and Suspends a Dam
Posted by Hannah Beech Friday, September 30, 2011 at 5:30 am
The Irrawaddy River is the lifeblood of Burma. Its waters spring from the Myitsone confluence of two rivers in the country’s northern Kachin state, a largely Christian ethnic minority territory whose rebel militia has over the decades battled the Burmese military. A few years ago when Burma’s ruling junta agreed to a $3.6 billion, Chinese-backed dam(http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1886304,00.html) that would flood a vast area near the Irrawaddy’s sacred source, few were surprised—even if many Burmese privately grumbled over a deal that would displace 15,000 people and put a potentially dangerous dam in a geologically unstable area. The ethnic Kachin haven’t exactly figured as a high priority for the country’s Buddhist, ethnically Burman generals. And Beijing—which was to enjoy most of the future electricity that would be sent from Myitsone to neighboring Yunnan Province in China—boasted the hard currency Burma’s regime needed to reinvigorate its local economy.But on Sept. 30, Burmese local press reported that President Thein Sein, head of a quasi-civilian government that took office earlier this year, had sent a letter to the rubber-stamp parliament announcing the controversial dam would be suspended. Thein Sein’s letter addressed 10 points, including environmental and social concerns, according to at least three Burmese publications. (The fact that Thein Sein’s letter was reported in the country’s heavily censored and controlled media makes it likely that the suspension is genuine.) The announcement shocked many Burma-watchers, who have rarely witnessed Burmese government officials hew to public opinion, much less environmental and ethnic concerns.

But last November, Burma’s junta held stage-managed elections that shepherded in what was trumpeted as a new civilian government in March. Members of the military or its proxies still control most top posts, and Thein Sein himself is a retired general who was the junta’s No. 2. Nevertheless, recent weeks have witnessed a rare political opening in Burma—and the Myitsone has served as a kind of fulcrum of various political forces. First, internal cabinet sparring over the project surfaced. While Minister for Electric Power Zaw Min vowed that the dam would be built despite any public disapproval, Minister for Environmental Conservation and Forestry Win Tun urged decision-makers at a government conference on the dam to be “cautious,” according to the Myanmar Times, a partially government-controlled paper. Soe Thein, Minister for Industry 1 and 2, was also quoted by the Myanmar Times questioning whether the project served “the national interest.”

Then opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was released from house arrest late last year, lent her support to a grass-roots “Save the Irrawaddy” coalition. In September, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate attended an anti-dam art exhibition in commercial capital Rangoon without any official harassment. Earlier this week, some of the protesters who were marking the fourth anniversary (http://globalspin.blogs.time.com/2011/09/27/burma-could-a-small-peaceful-protest-signal-real-reform/) of the bloody junta crackdown on monk-led rallies wore T-shirts criticizing the Myitsone dam. Unusually they were not arrested, although another person who had staged an earlier one-man demonstration in front of a Chinese government office was detained.

The question now is what the suspension will mean for relations between Burma, also known as Myanmar, and its main political ally, China. Western sanctions on Burma, which are tied to the country’s poor human-rights record, have been rendered largely moot because of Asian investment. Chief among Burma’s foreign investors is Beijing, which has poured money into hydropower, mining and a massive oil pipeline across Burma to Yunnan that would allow China to avoid the Strait of Malacca chokepoint through which much of its oil must currently pass.

The cozy relationship between Burma and China is relatively recent. For decades, ethnic rebels in Burma’s north, including some Kachin fighters, were funded by Chinese communists just across the border. Consequently, anti-Chinese sentiment still runs deep in Burma; anti-Chinese riots erupted in the late 1960s. Still it’s hard to ignore a neighbor eager to cash up a lonely regime in exchange for natural resources. Last year, roughly 40% of foreign investment in Burma came courtesy of China.

When I visited Myitsone in 2008, I met ethnic Kachin (also known as Jinghpaw) who were united in their opposition to the project. I also spoke with Chinese engineers who had worked on China’s controversial Three Gorges dam—and who were mystified by Kachin resentment. One Chinese manager told me: “In China, we just build the dams and people have to move. It’s for the good of the country’s development.” The question was implicit: Wasn’t Burma also run by an authoritarian government that could compel people to do what it wanted? What was the big hold-up?

Since that time, mysterious bombs, some fatal, unnerved Chinese workers at the Myitsone site. The unstable security situation meant that Chinese laborers would often leave for weeks at a time, and the project fell behind schedule. (The project’s Burmese partner was not Kachin, further fueling local resentment.) Meanwhile, relations between the Burmese junta and the rebel Kachin Independence Army (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1921485,00.html), which controls turf around Myitsone, degenerated. The two sides are currently engaged in fierce firefights, after a 17-year ceasefire crumbled.

All in all, it was hardly the most stable working environment for Chinese dam workers. In fact, a leaked internal document appears to indicate that the Chinese wanted to pull out of the project, despite the promise of electricity for Yunnan. Now with the Burmese President’s remarkable announcement to parliament, the secret wishes of the Chinese may have just come true.

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Sydney Morning Herald – Irrawaddy about face raises hope that Burma gives a dam
Lindsay Murdoch, Bangkok
October 2, 2011
BURMA’S military-dominated government has ordered a halt to a $US3.6 billion ($A3.7 billion) hydroelectric dam backed by China, surprising Western critics who have doubted promises of major economic and political reform in the impoverished Asian nation.President Thein Sein, a former general, said the Myitsone dam project on the Irrawaddy River, which would displace 10,000 people, would be terminated because ”it’s against the will of the people”.

For decades Burma’s military rulers paid little attention to public concerns and dealt brutally with dissent.

The dam announcement has stirred hope among foreign diplomats and Burmese analysts that Burma is entering a new era of civilian-led political and economic reforms.

Burma’s leaders have already signalled they are preparing to release hundreds of prisoners, some of them supporters of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

And Ms Suu Kyi, whose political party was denied power after winning elections in 1990, on Friday met for a third time with Mr Thein Sein and government ministers, including Labour Minister Aung Kyi.

The talks centred on the prisoner release, which could be within days, and the role that Ms Suu Kyi’s deregistered National League for Democracy could play in future elections.

”If the NLD officially registers under the law, we will always welcome working with the NLD,” Mr Aung Kyi said after the meeting.

Ms Suu Kyi was one of the critics of the Myitsone dam, which would have been the first on the Irrawaddy, the largest waterway in Burma, and would have flooded an area roughly the size of Singapore.

Under a 2009 agreement between China Power Investment Corporation and Burma’s military-backed Asia World Corporation, 90 per cent of the power generated would have gone to China although most Burmese lack electricity. The Burmese government said it would renegotiate the terms of the dam project with China ”without affecting the friendly bilateral relations between the two countries”.

A high-level Burmese government official last week warned in a newspaper article that Western countries would push Burma further towards China unless they lifted economic sanctions.

Chinese businesses have spread rapidly in Burma in recent years, causing some anti-Chinese sentiment.

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Asian Correspondent – China must respect native people’s voice concerning the Myitsone dam in Burma
By Zin Linn Oct 03, 2011 1:05AM UTC

China urged discussion on a suspended joint hydropower project in Burma (Myanmar), saying the legitimate rights and interests of its companies should be protected, according to Xinhua News Agency on Saturday.In a statement posted on the agency’s website Saturday, VOA News also said, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei called on Burma to hold consultations to handle any problems with the Myitsone dam project. The statement notes that both countries agreed to undertake the project after rigorous studies and reviews.“The Myitsone hydropower plant is a China-Myanmar jointly invested project, which has gone through scientific feasibility studies and strict examinations by both sides,” said the spokesman.

“Relevant matters that have emerged during the implementation of the project should be properly settled through friendly consultations between the two sides,” he said.

Environmental analysts say the Myitsone hydropower plant, which will put up a reservoir the size of Singapore, will seriously damage green environment and measureless biodiversity. It is being built and invested by Chinese companies and over 90 percent of its electricity will be sent to China.

Burma’s President Thein Sein sent a decisive letter to the current parliament regular session on Thursday. In the President’s 10-point letter, postponement of the Myitsone Dam plant is one, mentioning disadvantages of the Chinese-financed Myitsone dam on the Irrawaddy River in Kachin state and it would be put off during the term of the existing government.

Hong Lei said the Chinese government always supports its enterprises to cooperate with foreign companies on a basis of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefits, and orders Chinese enterprises to strictly perform their duties and commitments according to laws and regulations of the countries where they work, Xinhua News said.

The Myitsone hydropower project is jointly invested by the China Power Investment Group, and Myanmar’s Ministry of Electric Power-1 and the local private Asia World Company.

The 500-foot dam has been under construction at the confluence (Myitsone) of the Mali Hka River and N’Mai Hka River, 27 miles north of the Kachin capital of Myitkyina, beginning in December 2009, and it will cost 3.6 billion dollars. With an installed capacity of 6,000 megawatts (mw), it is estimated to yield 29,400 million kilowatt-hours a year on completion which was earlier scheduled by 2019.

On May 27, 2010, on behalf of the communities suffering from the Myitsone Dam project in Kachin State, Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG) appeal to Chinese President Hu Jintao to immediately halt the forced relocation and destruction of the villages of those opposed to this project by China’s state-owned China Power Investment Corporation (CPI).

Kachin people in exile signed a petition protesting against the dam project and appealing to halt it on 28 January and sent it to Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao through Chinese embassies in Thailand, India, Singapore, Britain and New Zealand.

But, Chinese government did not take into consideration the requests made by native Kachin people who were never consulted about the damming projects in their neighborhood.
The CPI made the dam contract with the previous junta’s Electric Power Ministry in May 2007, without respecting the voice of the people who live in the region.

According to analysts, protestation to the hydro-power dam on the Irrawaddy has been swelling as pro-democracy and environmental activists claim to stop the dam plant using their citizen’s rights under the new semi-civilian government, which is controlled by military officers from the previous junta.

If the government inflexibly continued with the Irrawaddy dam project, there might be a nationwide mass protest resembling the 1988 people’s uprising, most observers believe.

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Pretoria News – Forgotten Burmese bourse gears for expansion from two listings
October 2 2011 at 11:04am
In a quiet room in an ageing office block of Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon, a worker scribbles on a whiteboard beneath a row of out-of-sync clocks, updating prices in what could be the world’s smallest stock market.Welcome to the Myanmar Securities Exchange. It is among the best-kept secrets of a repressive country hamstrung by Western sanctions and blighted by 49 years of military rule.

There is no trading floor, no flashing screens and no television show financial news channels. Just eight employees who handle over-the-counter transactions and manually update share prices on a whiteboard with a marker pen.

Set up 15 years ago, as a joint venture with Japanese broker Daiwa Securities, Myanmar’s stock market has attracted just two companies. This is an echo of broader problems in the resource-rich country that half a century ago was among Asia’s richest and is now one of its poorest.

But as Myanmar’s new civilian government presses ahead with reforms that could lead to greater political and economic freedom, and as China pumps in billions of dollars to develop its vast energy reserves, plans are afoot to expand.

Daiwa is working with the Tokyo Stock Exchange to establish rules and computer systems for a bigger stock market, according to a Daiwa spokesman. The plan expands on Daiwa’s 50-50 joint venture established in 1996 to set up the current exchange with Myanmar’s Finance and Revenue Ministry.

The biggest country in mainland southeast Asia has been one of the most difficult for foreign investors. The economy is restricted by sanctions, starved of capital and marred by mismanagement, but the eight-month-old parliament is stirring hopes of reforms that can slowly open access. Just over 50 years ago, the country, then known as Burma, was one of Asia’s most promising, the world’s biggest rice exporter and a major energy producer.

A senior official from the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development said the government wanted to expand the number of listed firms as part of efforts by the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean), of which Myanmar is a member, to form an interlinked stock market by 2015.

“The emergence of a stock exchange is very important for us in bringing the country in line with the rest of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean),” said the official, who asked not to be identified.

“Some important laws have already been drafted. After enacting these laws, the Securities and Exchange Committee will be formed. Then there will be rapid progress.”

That ambition is one of many signs of change since the army nominally handed power to civilians after the first elections in two decades last year, a process ridiculed at the time as a sham to cement authoritarian rule under a democratic facade.

Recent overtures by the government hint at possibly deeper changes at work – from calls for peace with ethnic minority guerrilla groups to some tolerance of criticism and more communication with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who was freed last year after 15 years of house arrest.

The push to expand the bourse also underlines how competition is heating up among exchanges in Asia’s frontier markets, following recent South Korean forays to build bourses in Cambodia and Laos.

Myanmar’s first stock exchange was closed in the 1960s after a military takeover. Its successor, the Myanmar Securities Exchange Centre, is a modest operation.

No new companies have signed up beyond the first two: Forest Products and Myanmar Citizens Bank. Both are jointly owned by the government and private investors.

For those who got in early, returns have been generous. Forest Products sold shares between 1993 and 1996 and has delivered dividends of about 25 percent a year.

Daiwa signed a deal on April 5, 1996 to start the exchange, but within a month the pact was cast into uncertainty as the military junta began rounding up hundreds of pro-democracy supporters in a crackdown on Suu Kyi.

That sparked an outcry in the West. US soft drink giant PepsiCo sold its stake in a Myanmar venture. US apparel firms cancelled contracts with Burmese suppliers. The White House urged Myanmar to halt its “pressure tactics”. A year later the US imposed sanctions as human rights abuses widened.

Undaunted, the exchange’s executive director, Soe Thein, assembled a small team to draft laws and set up an exchange regulator to achieve his dream of a capital market within five or six years. “But it failed to come up to our expectations.”

Now the new government has promised sweeping reforms – from tax reductions for exporters to microloans for farmers and interest rate cuts on bank loans. In recent weeks it has sought input from the International Monetary Fund.

The recent gestures follow the privatisation of hundreds of state assets from late 2009, including mining firms, an airline, shipping companies and factories, albeit mostly to cronies of the army regime. Its banking system is crippled by sanctions, but Soe Thein remains optimistic.

And his little bourse may even face competition soon. South Korean bourse operator Korea Exchange said in January it had sent a delegation to Myanmar to hold preliminary talks with the government about the possibility of opening a separate exchange.

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Thai PM to pay official visit to Myanmar
English.news.cn   2011-10-02 11:31:45
YANGON, Oct. 2 (Xinhua) — Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will pay an official visit to Myanmar in order to strengthen bilateral relations between the two neighboring countries, according to official sources on Sunday.At the invitation of Myanmar President U Thein Sein, the Thai prime minister will pay the visit in the near future, the official the New Light of Myanmar daily reported on Sunday.

The visit would be the Thai prime minister’s first time visit to the country after taking office, following her trip to Brunei, Indonesia, Cambodia and Laos later September.

The two sides will have discussions on enhancing bilateral relations and economic cooperation, some local traders said.

According to earlier report, bilateral trade between Myanmar and Thailand hit 2.9 billion U.S. dollars in the fiscal year 2010- 11, decreasing by 18 percent correspondingly.

Thailand stood first in Myanmar’s foreign trade partner line-up during the year, followed by China, Hong Kong SAR, India, Singapore, Japan, Malaysia and South Korea.

Statistics also show that Thailand represented the second in Myanmar’s foreign investment line-up with 9.568 billion dollars in 61 projects.

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Hindustan Times – Where China and India merge
Reshma Patil, Hindustan Times
Ruili (Sino-Myanmar border), October 02, 2011
Last Updated: 01:43 IST(2/10/2011)
One night in 2001, a 24-year-old Chinese citizen hailing from a remote border town on the southern Silk Road muttered a prayer and darted into Mizoram when the sentry at the Indo-Myanmar border let down his guard. “I told Indians that I’m from Nagaland. They never checked,” the bespectacled middle-school dropout revealed to the Hindustan Times in a mountainous frontier Chinatown called Ruili which is rimmed on three sides by Myanmar.The man introduced himself with two identities, a Chinese name and a Myanmarese name, spoke fluently in both languages, and marked the time in both nations. In India, he invented a third identity.

Tan (full name withheld) stayed undetected without a visa in India, passing himself off as a 21-year-old to study in Bangalore. He regularly traversed back and forth from India to China through Myanmar — for six years until 2007. He complained about the cost of the weeklong journey by bus, train and on foot: Rs 5,000 one-way.

It’s a journey no Indian dares attempt in reverse: from Mizoram to Mandalay to Ruili. This rural outpost has transformed from an underworld den of heroin and arms dealers into China’s strategic gateway to India and the Bay of Bengal with new cross-border highways, railroad and ports connecting it Myanmar.

India’s defence ministry this year warned that China has completed roads to all passes on the disputed border. In Tibet, the last dirt track in a county bordering India is being paved, helping meet a goal of extending roads in the Himalayan region from 58,000 km to 70,000 km by 2015.

Tan, a devotee of a state-backed church in his Chinese hometown, prayed to Jesus as he crept into the northeast state. He was not alone. They were a group of eight people from China and Myanmar who vanished inside India through the porous northeast. The crumbling roads may have impeded an advancing army but not the bands of infiltrators or dealers peddling arms to insurgents.

Rebuilding the northeastern roads may in fact make India’s borders more secure while bringing the economic opportunities denied to the region.

On the Stilwell Road

“The mountains on this side belong to Miandian (Chinese name for Myanmar) and the mountains on that side are Chinese,” explained my driver on the final lap of the restored World War-II China-Burma highway. The nearest Chinese airport to the Myanmar border is at Mangshi city, a two-hour drive on two black-topped lanes hugging a misty mountainside and paddy fields.

The landscape, bisected by a line of motorcycles and overloaded three-wheelers rumbling alongside villages and ramshackle huts, looks like a postcard from northeast Assam. But the Indian stretch of the 1,739-km road built by General Joseph Stilwell and Allied forces from Ledo in Assam to boost Chinese resistance against Japanese invaders is still a jungle trail even though the Indo-Myanmar side of the road has been rebuilt.

The border police sitting on stools at an unmarked checkpost near the Stilwell Road Wetland Park flagged down the taxi and peered in from the windows. Unlike Tan’s unchecked passage to India, my passport was photographed as they quizzed me.

“We have a saying that if you want to get rich, first build roads,” said Ren Jia, president of the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences in Kunming, the capital of southwest Yunnan province. “We understand why India is not willing to open this road. Stilwell Road is a symbol of cooperation between China, India and Myanmar. We hope it can again link us. When there is a road there is trade.”

Yunnan, a hinterland of 26 ethnic minorities, is now being linked by trans-Asian rail and highways to its neighbours Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam through Kunming and Ruili.

To drive on China’s side of the Stilwell Road, take the flight from Beijing to Kunming, where the Ledo road ended. The three-hour flight from Beijing to Kunming traverses almost the same distance as Beijing to Urumqi, capital of northwest Xinjiang. Kunming and Urumqi are closer to Myanmar and Pakistan than to most Chinese provinces.

“Chinese writings reveal that Pakistan and Myanmar have now acquired the same place in China’s grand strategy in the 21st century that was occupied by Xinjiang (New Territory) and Xizang (Western Treasure House, that is, Tibet),” said Mohan Malik, professor of Asian security at the Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies in Hawaii. “Pakistan is perceived as China’s new Xinjiang and Myanmar as China’s Xizang in economic, military, and strategic terms.”

Border boomtown

The two-lane highway expands to six yawning lanes as it enters China’s final frontier on the Myanmar border.

The paddy fields in Ruili where locals grew their own rice have given way to a port and markets selling Myanmarese timber and jade. A railroad from Ruili is snaking toward Myanmar’s western port city Kyaukphyu. Chinese engineers are also building a 200-km road on the Myanmar side of the border, besides ports, highways and bridges. A railway from Kunming through Laos and Myanmar to Thailand and a China-Myanmar-Bangladesh road network are in the works.

“We’re going to build international highways, railways, water routes, oil and gas channels and make Ruili a pilot city in opening-up,” announced the Yunnan governor in June. Authorities brag that their port will be as busy as Shenzhen.

Strategists like Malik point out that the north-south transport corridor along the Irrawaddy River will give Beijing entry into the Indian Ocean and serve military objectives in the event of a conflict with India or the Taiwan Straits, or if a naval blockade is imposed through the Malacca Straits. “Historically, whenever there was conflict between Chinese and Indian interests,” he said, “Rangoon gave greater importance to Chinese interests. The Myanmarese dare not antagonise China and they don’t fear India.”

In Ruili, the Chinese exporters and Myanmarese increasingly depend on each other. Despite the massive infrastructure for a place with under 300.000 residents, the only economic movement is trade in raw materials sourced from Ruili’s Myanmar ghettos and marked-up products exported to the world. The town has no university. This reporter never saw a foreign tourist even in the biggest hotel. Residents go to Kunming or Mandalay to graduate. The Chinese in Ruili speak Myanmarese, but not English, and cross their border with special permits. They also trade parcels and messages over the side barricades or simply squeeze through the gaps from one regime to another.

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Spero News – Myanmar: Peace and amnesty: dialogue between Aung San Suu Kyi and Burmese government continues
Third meeting between opposition leaders and Labour Minister Aung Kyi. Talks judged “satisfactory” and included protection of the Irrawaddy and national stability. Burmese political experts consider the recent political developments in Burmese politics “positive”, freed of the influence of General …
Saturday, October 01, 2011
By Asia News
Yangon – A possible amnesty for (political) prisoners and a permanent cease-fire with armed ethnic groups. These just some of the issues discussed during a meeting yesterday between the Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Labour Minister Aung Kyi, at Sane Lae Kan Thar, a government building in Yangon. Lasting about 77 minutes, it is the third official meeting between the Nobel Laureate and the senior official, and come after a face to face meeting with the president Thein Sein in recent weeks. Analysts judge the political developments of recent weeks “positive”, which could lead to a “real change” in Myanmar.In an official statement released after the meeting, both sides expressed “satisfaction” with the outcome of the meeting which also discussed joint cooperation in protecting the Irrawaddy River, collaboration for the stability of the nation, and the reaffirmation the principle of superiority of law and order. The leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and the Minister have also brought forward a new round of talks in the near future. Aung San Suu Kyi, 66, also welcomed the decision of President Thein Sein, who ordered the suspension of work on the construction of the dam on the Irrawaddy River (see AsiaNews 29/09/2011 Burmese President stops construction of Myitsone dam). “It is very important – said NLD leader – that [the government] hears the voice of the people. This is the role that every government has to fulfil. The Government must work to resolve issues of concern among the people. ”

Burmese policy experts, interviewed by AsiaNews, judge the meetings “positive”, for “positive results and a real change for the whole country.” In the last two decades in Myanmar, power has remained firmly in the hands of the military dictatorship. Now the new civilian government, appointed by the Parliament in recent months, despite being backed by the army and formed by many ex-officers, seems more oriented to concede some openings – albeit cautiously – to the opposition.

According to the source, an “institutional role in the short term” for Aung San Suu Kyi is unlikely, but “her entry into the country’s political life is inevitable “and “desirable as soon as possible.” People seem ready to “trust” the new government, which appears to have freed itself – according to unofficial rumours – from the influence of General Than Shwe, father and master of Myanmar for the past 20 years. “According to some – adds an official, on condition of anonymity – it seems that Than Shwe has problems of personal safety.”

The process towards the full democratization of the country may still be far off, but “the journey in the right direction” has already begun.

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Zee News – US says it maintains dual track policy on Myanmar
Last Updated: Saturday, October 01, 2011, 13:17

Washington: The US maintains a dual track policy on Myanmar of principled engagement and continuation of sanctions, the Obama administration has said, a day after its officials held a meeting with the country’s Foreign Minister.Myanmar’s Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin visited the Foggy Bottom headquarters of the State Department on Thursday to hold talks with US Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Myanmar, Ambassador Derek Mitchell, and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Kurt Campbell.The State Department yesterday described the meeting as “productive”, which among others was also attended by Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, Michael Posner.

“This meeting reflects the US’ commitment to principled engagement and the Burmese government’s willingness to discuss our core concerns including human rights, political prisoners, democracy, national reconciliation and non-proliferation, which are critical to improving the US-Burma bilateral relationship,” it said.

This was the second meeting between the two sides in a week’s time. The last one was held in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session.

Mitchell had held talks with the Myanmarese leaders during his recent trip to Nay Pyi Taw.

Earlier this week, Deputy Secretary of State Williams J Burns had asked India to use its influence over Myanmar to bring in changes in the country.

“Across the board, we hope India recognises that with increased power comes increased responsibility — including the recognition, in the spirit of Gandhi, that an assault on human rights and freedom in one place is an assault on human rights and freedom everywhere,” Burns had said.

Recent weeks have seen encouraging signs from Myanmar, including a new embrace of the language of reform, he had said in his remarks on India-US relationship at a gathering jointly organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and the Brookings Institute, a Washington-based eminent American think-tank.

“Then-Foreign Secretary (Nirupama) Rao’s meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi earlier this year was an important step, and we hope that the Indian government will use its close ties in Burma to encourage concrete action on political and economic reform and national reconciliation,” Burns had said.

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Bangkok Post – EDITORIAL: Winds of change or just a smokescreen?
Published: 2/10/2011 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News
It’s hard to tell what exactly is happening with our neighbours at the moment _ and academics, journalists and professional Burma-watchers seem just as bamboozled as the rest of us. Are we seeing real change under Burma’s newly “elected” civilian government, or is it the old wolf slipping seamlessly into sheep’s clothing?For its part, the government of President Thein Sein is making all the right noises to appease Western critics, diplomats and some of the NGOs who found little to admire in the old military regime which jailed, and still has in prison, over 2,000 political activists.

Foreign Minister Wanna Maung Lwin recently assured the UN’s General Assembly in New York that more political prisoners would be released in the near future. While welcome news, more sceptical observers are asking not just how many will be released but also whether those freed will include the old junta’s harsher critics.

Rapprochement with the previous regime’s nemesis _ pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi _ also appears to be well under way since her release from house arrest 11 months ago.

Mrs Suu Kyi plans more talks with Burmese government officials following a meeting with President Thein Sein in Naypyidaw in August, after which she declared there had been ”positive development” in her country. Her first political tours outside of Rangoon since being released have been relatively uneventful, despite earlier fears they would draw the ire of authorities. The message for Mrs Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) seems to be for inclusion rather than exclusion as Burma transitions to democracy.

The United States, the European Union, the UN and Asean are also more willing to engage with the civilian government to encourage it to undertake real political reform and reconciliation. Burma is hoping to hold the chair of Asean in 2014, and Marty Natalegawa, the foreign minister of Indonesia, which currently holds the chairmanship, said the organisation would seek Mrs Suu Kyi’s opinion before making a decision on Burma’s request.

Kurt Campbell, the US assistant secretary of state, noted recently that ”winds of change are clearly blowing through Burma” and added ”the extent of it is still unclear, but everyone who’s gone there recognises that there are changes”.

Support for the baby steps the regime is taking towards democracy also came from the International Crisis Group (ICG) in a report with the self-explanatory title ”Myanmar: Major Reform Underway” released late last month.

The report drew a spirited response from Maung Zarni, a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and Politics, who responded on The Irrawaddy news site to the ”Seven Deadly Sins” of the report, which he claims gave ammunition to the ICG’s anti-sanctions position.

Central to his criticism is that the ICG report did not consult sources who would have provided intelligence ”which would contradict or invalidate the report’s sweeping claims about major reform in Burma.” Among those omissions are a response from the armed ethnic armies to President Thein Sein’s peace offers. The report is also taken to task for playing down human rights abuses and ”war crimes” committed by the Burmese military.

But in terms of gestures, the grandest so far by the six-month-old government came on Friday afternoon when the president called for the suspension of construction of the controversial US$3.6 billion (112 billion baht) Myitsone dam in Kachin state in the country’s northeast.

Opposition to the dam is multilayered based not only on environmental and cultural concerns, but also the role of China which is backing it and building it (See Spectrum, pages 8-10). It has been an emotive issue for the Burmese government, with high-ranking officials reportedly divided over it, further complicated by Mrs Suu Kyi writing an open letter calling for the project to be reassessed.

U Aung Din, a former democracy advocate now in exile in the US, reflected the anti-China sentiments when he wrote ”China has colonised Burma without shooting a gun and has sucked the life of the people of Burma with the help of the Burmese regime and its cronies.”

While an apparent about-face by the Burmese government, it may result in improving its democratic credentials by sending a message that it is listening to both the people’s and opposition voices while taking a rare stand against its mightier ally. All this was played out, for Burma, in a more open media with voices of dissent allowed to be heard.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will have her chance to hear about the reforms when she visits President Thein Sein in Naypyidaw on Wednesday to introduce herself to her Burmese counterparts.

Her minders have described the trip as routine, but it would be interesting to know what’s on the agenda given her brother’s cosy and questionable relationship with Burma’s generals in the past. They have also said Ms Yingluck has no intention of meeting Mrs Suu Kyi.

Given the ”winds of change” sweeping Burma perhaps it would be in Thailand’s interest for her to call on Mrs Suu Kyi some time in the future, the new civilian government, of course, willing.

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October 2, 2011 4:32 pm
The Financial Times – Reformists begin to make mark in Burma
By Tim Johnston in Bangkok

Reform might be a relative term when applied to Burma, but the architects of attempts to remodel the country after nearly 20 years of international isolation are very much in the ascendant.Burma is on the verge of releasing some of the more than 2,000 political prisoners held in its jails, a move that is one of the main criteria for the lifting of sanctions against the country. On Friday, meanwhile, the government suspended construction of a $3.6bn China-backed hydroelectric dam following pressure over the potential environmental and social impact.Those are the most prominent of a number of measures set in train by the new government and would seem to confirm that reformists led by President Thein Sein are calling the shots.

Since Mr Thein Sein’s administration took power in April, he has proposed a labour law that would allow trade unions to take industrial action and give them freedom of assembly; he has held face-to-face negotiations with Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate and de facto opposition leader; and the authorities in Rangoon last week allowed an opposition demonstration to commemorate the uprisings of three years ago.

Outside Burma such steps would be unremarkable. But in the context of a country emerging from nearly 50 years of repression and political stagnation, they represent a vast shift. Even the army, the architects of that stagnation, seems to be in favour of change: 25 per cent of parliament consists of military appointees and they supported the prisoner release proposal when it was put to a vote.

Although last November’s elections are widely believed to have been rigged, the new political architecture, with its competing centres of power – the presidency, parliament, the army and political parties – mimics democracy in its checks and balances and could, some analysts believe, provide a foundation for a more representative system.

The signs are encouraging, but they do not yet add up to a measurable shift on the ground. Amnesty International estimates there are still more than 2,100 political prisoners, and a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists published last week concluded that “the government has made virtually no progress on press freedom”.

When Derek Mitchell, President Barack Obama’s special envoy to Burma, met Wunna Maung Lwin, foreign minister, last Tuesday, he set out a shopping list of what the US would like to see.

“They emphasised that the US seeks concrete steps from the government of Burma to signify a genuine commitment to reform, including release of all political prisoners, further meaningful dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, a cessation of hostilities in and violence against ethnic areas, and transparency in its relationship with North Korea,” a state department spokesman said.

If, as Mr Wunna Maung Lwin has promised, a substantial number of prisoners are released, many analysts say the west needs to respond positively, most obviously with a relaxation of sanctions.

The charge is likely to be led by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank, all quietly exploring the limits of the legal restrictions on their operations in the country.

If there are clear signs of reform, the unresolved conflicts with heavily armed ethnically based militias along Burma’s eastern borders with China and Thailand present the most formidable challenge for the government.

Beijing is investing billions of dollars in oil and natural gas pipelines, hydroelectric dams and railways that run through territory controlled by ethnic militias, increasing the pressure on both the government and the ethnic groups to find a more stable and sustainable answer to the current ad hoc ceasefire agreements.

Burma has a long history of false dawns. Its decision on Friday to halt work on one of the infrastructure projects – and the terse response from China – will no doubt test further the country’s newfound desire to reform.

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Speech on environment by cartoonist Aw P Kyel suspended
Friday, 30 September 2011 22:15 Te Te

New Delhi (Mizzima) – A scheduled speech to the Myanmar Fisheries Federation (MFF) by cartoonist Aw P Kyel has been suspended by authorities. Three days before the order, the MFF requested him not to talk about matters regarding Myitsone Dam, he told Mizzima.“As soon as I heard that [the government] decided to halt the Myitsone project, the fisheries federation called me. They said the authorities ordered them to suspend the literary talk,” said Aw P Kyel.He said, “The MFF has organized literary talks for many years, so they have a lot of experience. MFF officials cancelled the arrangement because the authorities sent the order and they [MFF officials] cannot refuse it.”

Aw P Kyel, a well-known conservationist, had planned to deliver a speech titled “Help in Pushing” that would have covered topics regarding environmental conservation and Burma’s current status among neighbouring countries.

“For instance, if the wheels of a bullock cart are stuck in mud, we cannot move forward. The country cannot improve. To improve, we need to struggle from the mud. I had planned to talk about it. I’ve talked about it for two or three months [in previous speeches],” he said.

The MFF and the Myanmar Shrimp Association jointly invite writers and scholars every two weeks to deliver speeches at the MFF headquarters.

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Mizzima News – Bauk Ja to sue Chinese company building Myitsone Dam project
Friday, 30 September 2011 19:52
Phanida(Interview) – Despite President Thein Sein’s decision to halt the Myitsone dam project, National Democratic Force member Bauk Ja said that she would sue China Power Investment Corporation for losses and damages on the project.Bauk Ja has collected signatures from states and regions located along the Irrawaddy River for a signature campaign against the dam project.

Mizzima correspondent Phanida talked with Bauk Ja about her opinion of President Thein Sein’s decision to halt the project during his tenure and other issues surrounding the dam project.

Question: What do you think about President Thein Sein’s decision to halt the Myitsone dam project?

Answer: A temporary suspension is not certain [that the dam will stop permanently]. It seems that they have acceded to people’s request because they are afraid that people will stage an uprising. They did not say the project has been completely stopped.

Q: What do you want to happen regarding the dam project?

A: We want China to stop the dam construction. Just temporarily acceding to people’s request is like giving a child a snack to make the child silent. We cannot be quieted. If the suspension is just temporary, people cannot celebrate. They will be in suspense, wondering when it [the construction] will start again. If the government is concerned about citizens’ welfare, the project should be halted permanently and we should cancel the contract with China, then the people will be satisfied.

Q: If the contract between the Burmese government and the Chinese government is cancelled, what could happen?

A: China may ask for compensation. If the [Burmese government] cancels the contract, they may demand compensation.

Q: Will you stop conducting your campaign against the Myitsone Dam project?

A: We will continue. We will do it until [the authorities] stop the project [permanently]. We will sue China’s CPI (China Power Investment Corporation) Company because many things in the area were damaged. We will sue it to prevent it from continuing the project.

Q: Do you think people are happy because the president has decided to halt the project after people raised widespread objections?

A: They cannot be happy because it’s just a temporary suspension. If the project is completely cancelled, we will be very happy. Temporary suspension makes me more worried. And it’s not sure whether they really will halt the project. Despite their words about halting the project, they may continue the project [secretly]. And we cannot guess how they will negotiate [with China]. It’s not just Myitsone Dam. We want the authorities not to build any dam along the Irrawaddy River. They never satisfy the demands of the people. Because of their dishonest actions, people find it hard to trust them.

Q: So, how can they prove that they are worthy of trust?

A: Regarding fighting (in some ethnic areas), although they say they will try their best to establish peace, they are fighting bitterly [in ethnic areas]. That shows who they really are. They did it [the Myitsone announcement] because they are afraid of a mass uprising.

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Editor - The Myanmar Gazette || First Amendment – Religion and Expression - Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.