kaiJanuary 7, 201172min660
The Guardian – Top 100 women: nominate now
AFP – Cargo ship fire kills four Chinese off S. Korea
VOA News – Indonesia Puts the Spotlight on Human Rights as ASEAN Chair
Philippine Daily Inquirer – Indonesia announces dates for Asean summits
The Online NewsHour – Photographer Offers a Portrait of Myanmar’s ‘First Lady of Freedom’
Asia Times Online – China outward bound through Myanmar
The Nation – Thailand retains position as world’s top rice exporter in 2010
The Nation – High-speed rail has potential to benefit both Thailand and China
Bangkok Post – 1.6m mad pills seized in crackdown
Bangkok Post – Opinion: Thailand again sullies its human rights record
Phuket News – Burmese man murdered in Phuket
Indian Express – Highway diplomacy
Monsters and Critics – Luc Besson quietly filming Aung San Suu Kyi biopic in Paris already
Opednews.com – Burma: No ethnic autonomy under military dominated sham parliament
The Irrawaddy – Military Firms Excluded From Tax Evasion Law
The Irrawaddy – Ban Discusses Burma with Chinese FM
The Irrawaddy – Airport Just Latest Chinese Foray into Burma’s Transport Sector
Mizzima News – Pearl emporium to be held in Naypyidaw
Mizzima News – Kachins shun junta-organised Manau festival
The Guardian – Top 100 women: nominate now
To celebrate International Women’s Day, the Guardian is compiling a list of 100 inspirational women and would like you to help
guardian.co.uk, Friday 7 January 2011 00.05 GMT

Aung San Suu Kyi? Oprah Winfrey? Tanni Grey-Thompson? J K Rowling? Even ­Margaret Thatcher? To celebrate the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day this year, the Guardian is ­planning to compile a list of the most inspirational women around the world and would like you to help.

Here’s a nomination form for you to fill in, explaining your choice. A Guardian panel will then meet to decide on the most deserving entries. We promise to read all entries and to publish the best ones once the list has been compiled. We’re aiming for publication of the full list on 8 March.

Cargo ship fire kills four Chinese off S. Korea
Fri Jan 7, 1:12 am ET

SEOUL (AFP) – Four Chinese sailors died Friday after a fire gutted a Cambodia-flagged cargo ship off South Korea’s southern port of Busan, coast guard officials said.

The coast guard said the 1,400-ton Yunxing with eight Chinese and one from Myanmar aboard caught fire early Friday, two nautical miles from Busan.

Four Chinese died and the rest of the crew was pulled to safety, a Busan coast guard spokeswoman told AFP.

The blaze was put off in about two hours but heavy smoke delayed a rescue operation.

Coast guard officials suspect the blaze might have been caused by a short circuit, Yonhap news agency said, adding there was no cargo aboard.

One rescued sailor told investigators that the fire had started around the first floor kitchen, Yonhap said.

Coast guard officials believe that smoke had hampered a quick evacuation of the sailors who were sleeping at the time of the fire. The bodies were found in the first floor kitchen and a second floor cabin.

VOA News – Indonesia Puts the Spotlight on Human Rights as ASEAN Chair
Brian Padden | Jakarta 07 January 2011

In its role chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year, Indonesia says it will make human rights its top priority.

At a news event Friday, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said his country hopes that during 2011, the ASEAN human rights commission will be more effective in fulfilling its mandate to demonstrate the organization’s commitment to respect the basic rights of human beings.

Putting the spotlight on human rights in ASEAN is major change from the past, says Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an analyst with the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.
ASEAN has been successful on issues such as promoting free trade and regional security matters, he says. But addressing contentious issues like human rights may be seen by some as a violation of ASEAN’s principle of not interfering in the internal affairs of it members.

“Members are happy to talk about it as long as it does not affect certain interests of their own countries,” Chachavalpongpun said. “But when it comes to tough issues like democracy and human rights we have to admit that not all countries in ASEAN are democratic.”

Among the 10 ASEAN states, Laos and Vietnam are one-party governments, led by the Communist Party. And human rights groups consider Burma’s military government among the world’s most repressive.

Last year’s election in Burma, also know as Myanmar, brought the issue of human rights within ASEAN to the forefront. Critics of the government say it stage-managed the vote to ensure the military remains in power.

Human rights organizations criticized ASEAN for not confronting Burma about the abuses there.

If Indonesia wants ASEAN to get serious about human rights, Chachavalpongpun says, it needs to abolish its principle of non-interference.

“I also think that maybe it is time for ASEAN to talk about some sort of punishment, maybe not to the point of expulsion [of member states]. There has to be some sort of compliance and what kind of punishment to be caused to certain members in the case that that member obviously do not comply,” Chachavalpongpun said.

Natalegawa says the situation in Burma last year did contribute to his country’s commitment to emphasize human rights in ASEAN. But he stopped short of recommending specific actions and said the situation there has improved since the election.

He noted, for instance, that opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was freed from detention after the vote.

“Of course, over the past several weeks there have been important developments in Myanmar. The elections are notable,” Natalegawa said. “But on top of that we have had the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. So all these two important developments must be digested, must be absorbed, for ASEAN to be able to think ahead. How we can insure the issue of Myanmar or development in Myanmar can have a sense of closure in 2011.”

Rather than punish offenders, Natalegawa says Indonesia intends to use quiet diplomacy and consensus building to persuade ASEAN members to respect human rights.

Philippine Daily Inquirer – Indonesia announces dates for Asean summits
Agence France-Presse
First Posted 18:31:00 01/07/2011

JAKARTA – Indonesia’s foreign minister said Friday his country will host two summits of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) during its chairmanship of the 10-nation bloc this year.

Asean’s 18th and 19th summits will be held in the capital, Jakarta, on May 7-8 and on the popular resort island of Bali, probably in October.

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said Indonesia, which took over the bloc’s annual chairmanship from Vietnam, would work to make “significant progress in achieving the Asean Community”.

Asean, which is headquartered in Jakarta, includes the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Thailand, nations with a combined population of approximately 600 million people.

“Indonesia hopes that in 2011, the Asean Human Rights Commission will be more effective in fulfilling its mandate, reflecting the commitment of Asean countries to respect human rights,” Natalegawa said.

Asean has been widely criticized for being timid in dealing with human rights abuses particularly by military-run Myanmar.

The group established a new human rights body in 2009 requiring its members to report on their human rights development.

Critics, however, say the commission lacks powers to punish Myanmar, whose rights abuses have driven many of its citizens into exile.

“Indonesia will also endeavor to make significant progress on the issue of protection of migrant workers in the region,” Natalegawa said.

Natalegawa also announced that Indonesia wanted to be more active on the global level and increase its contributions to UN peacekeeping missions, in order to join “the top 10 largest contributor countries of UN troops”.

“Throughout 2010, Indonesia deployed some 1,785 personnel in seven UN missions”, making the nation one of the 20 largest contributing countries to UN peacekeeping forces, he said.

WORLD — January 6, 2011 at 2:01 PM EDT
The Online NewsHour – Photographer Offers a Portrait of Myanmar’s ‘First Lady of Freedom’
By: Mike Fritz

Over the last two decades, many of the world’s famous and powerful have found themselves in front of Platon’s camera.

The renowned portrait photographer dropped his last name early in his career. It happened by mistake after someone in the art department at Vogue Magazine failed to include it in his photo credit.

“I was too embarrassed to complain to the creative director because I was still a student at the time,” Platon said from his office in New York. “I was just grateful for the work…and it stuck somehow.”

Platon has gone on to do portraits for The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, Esquire and GQ, among others. He’s photographed actors, musicians and more than a hundred world leaders, including President Obama, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (a photo TIME Magazine used for its 2007 Person of the Year Issue) and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Yet Platon says his most recent Time Magazine portraits, one of which graces the cover of the Jan. 10 issue, could easily be the best set of images he’s ever captured.

“She is a symbol of freedom,” he said of his latest subject, “and we all take for granted the freedom to walk down the street and criticize our leaders.”

He is referring to Aung San Suu Kyi, the 65-year-old Burmese Nobel Peace Prize laureate who was recently released from house arrest in Rangoon. Platon and colleague Hannah Beech were able to secretly photograph and interview the former politician, who has been dubbed the country’s “First Lady of Freedom.”

Suu Kyi, who was last free in 2003, has become a powerful symbol of resistance against the country’s ruling generals. Platon said many Burmese citizens he met carried laminated photos of her as a badge of support.

It was a substantial journalistic feat just to get cameras and microphones into Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, and their reporting trip was almost derailed on several occasions by the junta’s ubiquitous police force, which, according to Platon, tracked the pair’s movements constantly.

“I am not a photojournalist and certainly not used to the Jason Bourne type stuff that some photographers have to deal with,” Platon said. “I’m a portrait photographer that’s used to shooting celebrities, and I usually need time and all kinds of lights and a studio to set up my shots.”

Platon devised a makeshift set after he and Beech finally locked down an interview and photo shoot with Suu Kyi at the headquarters for the National League for Democracy, a political party that was stripped of its electoral power by the junta after she led it to victory at the polls in 1990.

Platon asked Suu Kyi what music she liked because, he said, “We all know about her politics but I wanted to know who she was as a person.”

Suu Kyi told him that she enjoyed listening to Bach and Mozart but also smiled and said, “I do quite like Bob Marley.”

“It’s her spirit, man, I’m telling you,” Platon said, “It takes your breath away.”

Watch a video of Platon describe how he and Beech were able to sneak out of Burma.

Behind the Cover Photo: Evading Police, Capturing a Spirit


Jan 8, 2011
Asia Times Online – China outward bound through Myanmar
By Brian McCartan

CHIANG MAI – Myanmar is set to become an important regional rail hub connecting China and India with markets in Southeast Asia and beyond should proposed spending plans come to fruition. As with many infrastructure developments across the region, Beijing is the driving force behind the ambitious designs.

China plans to construct several routes linking its remote southwestern region with ports in Myanmar and on to Southeast and South Asia. In particular, a major rail line is planned to connect Kunming with a new deep-sea port and special industrial economic zone under construction at Kyaukpyu on Myanmar’s western coast.

Plans for the route were first announced in the Myanmar Weekly

Eleven News magazine on October 16 and is expected to be finished in 2015. China is also involved in developing the port and the industrial zone, both of which are part of its plan to develop a trade outlet for its land-locked southwestern region and an oil and gas transshipment point connected to oil and gas pipelines already under construction.

Another rail route will connect the 1,920 kilometers between China’s Yunnan province capital Kunming to Myanmar’s former capital and major port Yangon. Construction will likely build on Myanmar’s existing north-south rail line rather than lay completely new tracks.

This route would also link with a railway connecting to a new port project at Dawei on the country’s southern coast. A component of the port project announced late last year is the construction of a new rail line between Dawei and Bangkok.

A third route will run through Myanmar’s eastern Shan State connecting Kunming with the northern Thai town of Chiang Rai and from there link into the Thai rail network. This link, together with a route currently being surveyed in Laos, will enable the shipment of goods by rail between China, Cambodia, Thailand and Singapore.

Wang Mengshu, an academic at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, told Chinese media in December that “an expert delegation from the Ministry of Railroads visited [Myanmar] and Laos in mid-November to conduct a survey: as soon as a route for the China-[Myanmar] railroad is determined, construction could start in as early as two months, and may serve as the main transportation route of China’s [rail] link with countries in Southeast Asia”.

Two additional routes connecting southwestern China with Myanmar’s rail network are planned between the Chinese town of Dali with Myitkyina and Lashio. Both Myanmar towns are large trading centers and railheads. China has also contributed to upgrade Myanmar’s rail stock: in October 2010, Beijing donated thirty engines from the rail transport department as “friendship gifts”, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Once completed, the new routes will strengthen China’s already substantial economic ties with Myanmar and contribute to a more integrated regional economy. China is already in the midst of an estimated US$1 trillion project to expand its domestic railway system from the current 78,000 kilometers to 110,000 by 2012 and 120,000 by 2020. The project aims to connect all major Chinese cities with high-speed lines with trains capable of speeds of over 200 kilometers per hour.

Myanmar occupies an especially important position in Beijing’s ambitious plans to construct a high-speed rail network linking China with the economies of Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Much of this network, especially through Myanmar, corresponds with the 14,000 kilometer Trans-Asian Railway initiative the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) first proposed in the 1960’s. If completed as planned, it will represent the largest infrastructure project in history.

The exact routes of the lines are still unclear, but they will follow three general directions. A northern route will extend through Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine and on to connect to the European rail network. A middle route will go through Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Iran to Turkey. A southern route will link China to Singapore through Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand. Currently, China’s only rail connection to Southeast Asia runs to Vietnam.

Missing links
One major obstacle for the project is Beijing’s insistence on the use of the same gauge of tracks as its domestic high-speed network. The rail systems in Myanmar and other Southeast Asian nations use different gauges, meaning it will be necessary to replace current tracks or lay new ones to make the connection.

Another is the high cost and how it will be shared. China is reportedly in talks about track gauge, line direction and expense allocations with the tipped 17 countries. However, many observers are skeptical of estimates that the network could be completed over the next 10 years. Beijing must also ensure the long-term profitability of the railways in order to make the huge investment necessary for the project justifiable. So far the only portion of China’s planned network actually under construction is a link between Yunnan province and northern Myanmar.

China has offered to bankroll the construction of new routes and upgrades to Myanmar’s existing system in exchange for access to the country’s rich natural resources. Wang Mengshu, a professor at Beijing Jiaotong University and a key member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, told German Magazine Der Spiegel in March “We will obtain commodities that the huge Chinese population needs. [Myanmar], for instance, has no money but plenty of resources. We will help such underdeveloped countries to build railroads and to exploit their resources. Many countries have oil, gas and water resources.”

In addition to providing expanded export routes for Chinese goods from its remote southwestern region, the railways will also enable more efficient transportation of energy resources from suppliers in the Middle East and Africa. New deep-sea ports at Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh and Kyaukphyu and Dawei in Myanmar will with new rail links cut almost in half the distance needed to transport oil from the Middle East and Africa by sea.

The new ports and rail links will provide alternative routes for Chinese strategic resources that avoid potential maritime bottleneck areas such as the Malacca Straits, where currently as much as 80% of China’s imported energy travels. Strategic analysts have noted that the US could block those energy flows in a potential conflict with China.

China and Bangladesh have discussed establishing a rail link between Kunming and a new deep sea port project under construction at Cox’s Bazaar via Myanmar’s rail network. An agreement with Dhaka has yet to be signed, but the proposed 111-kilometer route is expected to pass through eastern Bangladesh to Gundum in Myanmar where it will either connect with Myanmar’s existing rail network or with the new high-speed route.

Regardless of Chinese assistance, Dhaka seems eager to construct a railway to the Myanmar border. In July 2010, Dhaka announced plans to build a railway to the Myanmar border by 2014 at a cost of $260 million. Construction of the single-track meter gauge route was set to begin in July, but some Bangladeshi observers say this may be more talk than substance. Chinese involvement, however, would put more financial firepower behind Dhaka’s plans.

Bangladesh-Myanmar ties have been problematic in recent years due to disputes over their shared border, Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, as well as smuggling and ownership disputes of lucrative offshore oil and gas deposits. A new rail link, however, may go some way to interconnecting their economies and reducing the possibilities of further disputes.

India, not to be outdone by Chinese financing of Myanmar’s railway infrastructure, authorized its state-owned EXIM Bank to lend $60 million to Naypyidaw to finance railway projects. The announcement of the funding came during a recent visit by Myanmar leader Senior General Than Shwe to New Delhi where he met with Indian leaders including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

India’s assistance is a component of its ambitious Mekong-Ganga Cooperation (MGC) project to link New Delhi with Hanoi by rail. India signed a pact for the project in 2000 with Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia. As part of the project, it has extended a $56 million line of credit to Naypyidaw to construct modern railway facilities in its central and northwestern regions. New Delhi has also assisted in the upgrading of the central Yangon-Mandalay rail line.

In order to connect the two countries by rail, Indian Railways has begun initial preparations to extend a broad gauge track from Jiribam in southwestern Manipur state to Moreh on the border with Myanmar. The line will connect with a proposed track in Myanmar from the current railhead at Segyi in its western Sagaing Division to the town of Tamu on the Myanmar-India border.

An established rail link between India and Myanmar would also allow for the more efficient shipment of goods between India and China. Trade between the two countries has been fast growing. China is now India’s largest trading partner, with bilateral trade projected to have reached $60 billion last year. While rivals for influence in the region, especially in Myanmar, their economies are becoming increasingly interdependent despite complaints by some Indian businessmen carping about a trade imbalance which favors China.

Brian McCartan is a Bangkok-based freelance journalist. He may be reached at brianpm@comcast.net.

The Nation – Thailand retains position as world’s top rice exporter in 2010
Published on January 07, 2011

Thailand exported an estimated 9.03 million tons of rice in 2010, retaining its decades-old position as the world’s top exporter of the grain, industry sources said Friday.

Thailand’s rice exports last year increased 5 per cent in volume and earned the kingdom an estimated 5.3 billion dollars, said Pissanu Saengyu, spokesman for the Thai Rice Exporters Association.

Vietnam, Thailand’s closest rival in the international rice trade, exported an estimated 6.9 million tonnes last year.

Thailand has been the world’s leading rice exporter since 1962 when Myanmar adopted a socialist system and lost its former primacy in the trade.

Thailand’s rice exports hit their peak in 2008 when it shipped 10 million tons, compared with 8.6 million in 2009.

In 2010, the country’s largest export market was Africa, led by Nigeria, Ivory Coast and South Africa.

“In Asia, we continued to lose some market share to Vietnam last year because our prices are higher,” Pissanu said. Thailand has set an export target of 9.5 million tonnes in 2011 with projected earnings of 5.3 billion to 5.6 billion dollars, Commerce Minister Porntiva Nakasai said Friday.

The Nation – High-speed rail has potential to benefit both Thailand and China
By Watcharapong Thongrung
Published on January 7, 2011

The Sino-Thai bullet-train project should advance the interests of both countries, observers say.

A Transport Ministry source notes that the attempt of Thailand to make the project happen soon could bring unwelcome consequences to the country. No evaluation has been conducted yet on all the economic impacts of the project on the country.

However, the government has pushed ahead with the project with considerable enthusiasm, as the high-speed railway will help save energy, will boost trade between Thailand and China and could help bring prosperity to Thailand’s densely populated Northeast, which has low per capita income.

The railway will link Thailand, China, Laos, Malaysia and Singapore.

Chinese Ambassador Guan Mu has said the project can be divided into the eastern route linking China with Vietnam and Cambodia; the western route connecting China with Burma, India and Bangladesh; and the central route passing through Thailand, Laos and Malaysia to Singapore.

Recently the subcommittee preparing the memorandum of understanding for the project recommended that the two countries set up a joint venture, with Thailand holding the majority share of 51 per cent, to run the project.

The JV would have the right to construct the project and provide the service for 30 years, with automatic renewal for 20 years. The company will set up a subsidiary to operate the train service.

The subcommittee will make the proposal to Supoth Sublom, the ministry’s permanent secretary, who chairs the project working committee, for his consideration. Then Thailand will forward the details for discussion with China. If both sides agree, the ministry will propose it for Parliament’s approval so the two parties can sign the MoU in March or April.

The project will take one year for an economic and engineering study and four years for construction. The super-express trains are expected to start running in 2015.

The progress on the project by the two countries has been remarkable. In June 2009 Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Chinese President Hu Jintao discussed collaborating on
regional economic development, especially between northern Thailand and southern China.

Parliament has also approved the framework of the MoU, which has led to the talks on the details of the project.

Thailand has also tried to reduce the obstacles to their joint investment. The Finance Ministry is now seeking an amendment to the Private Participation in State Undertaking Act to cut the approval process from 48 months to 12-18 months.

Supoth has said that in the initial talks, China wanted to see the development of three main routes, especially Kunming-Vientiane-Nong Khai, totalling 580 kilometres. This route is expected to take four years to complete. Its feasibility study is expected to be ready in the first half of this year.

Another ministry source pointed out that one of the project’s benefits was that it would turn Thailand into China’s gateway to trade with India and Europe. Since the pro forma internal rate of return is only 13 per cent, the project is not attractive enough to draw investors, which are interested only in the train project itself.

Beijing has long planned to position Thailand as the route linking southern China to the Andaman Sea and beyond to South Asia and Europe.

The source said it remained to be seen whether the government could see the MoU inked before Parliament is dissolved.

Bangkok Post – 1.6m mad pills seized in crackdown
Published: 7/01/2011 at 04:15 PM
Online news:

More than 21,000 suspects were arrested and 1.6 million speed pills and other kinds of drugs seized in a nationwide police crackdowns on drugs from Dec 21-Jan 5, Pol Gen Wichean Potephosree said on Friday.

The national police chief said police searched 4,655 communities nationwide suspected of being infested with drugs and arrested 21,130 suspects for drug offences.

The police seized more than 1.6 million methamphetamine pills, known colloquially as yaba (mad pills), 295kg of marijuana, 8.5kg of ice or crystalised methamphetamine, and heroin.

Pol Gen Wichean told a press conference that five suspected dealers were arrested in four major cases.

One of them was Pol Sr Sgt-Maj Pairote, a former officer of Samsen police station in Bangkok who was dismissed from the  service in October last year for involvement in drugs.

He was arrested on Phetkasem road in Phetchaburi’s Ban Lat district with 120,000 speed pills hidden in a false compartment in his car.

Two others were women of Burmese origin, Patcharee Lertluangchai and Orn Saengwong, who were arrested with 300,000 methamphetamine pills in Pathum Thani.

The fourth was Pornchai Sapperm, 25, who was arresed with 100,000 speed pills at a patrol station in Lat Phrao area.

The fifth was Saeng Chaiwong, 25, who was arrested in Muang district of Chiang Mai with 3,000 speed pills.

Pol Gen Wichean said most of the drugs were smuggled across the border into northern Thailand before being distributed throughout the country.

Bangkok Post – Opinion: Thailand again sullies its human rights record
Published: 7/01/2011 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News

Deja vu is a French term meaning “already seen”. Refoulement is also French, meaning “to force back”. Upon receiving a report on Christmas Day that Thai authorities had just forced back 166 refugees to Burma, I knew that I had seen this before – at Christmas 2009 in fact.

An armed Thai soldier stands guard as Burmese refugees wait for food at a border police base in Mae Sot on Nov 9 last year. Before the year ended many of the refugees were forcibly sent back to Burma.

Indeed, only a year ago this weekend, a colleague and I had written an article in this newspaper decrying the Thai government’s 2009 record on refugee protection. In late December 2009 – likewise seemingly calculated to coincide with the slowest week of the year – the army forcibly returned to Laos around 4,500 ethnic minority Hmong, among whom were 158 recognised refugees and many other asylum seekers.

A year later, only the facts had changed: the 166 refugees forcibly returned on Dec 25 had fled fighting in eastern Burma between the Burmese army and several ethnic minority armed groups. Of these refugees, 120 were women and children. They had taken refuge in Waw Lay village in Phop Phra district of Tak province, where authorities had likewise forced back at least 360 Burmese refugees on Dec 8, roughly 650 on Nov 17, and approximately 2,500 on Nov 10, 2010.

Along with the year-end symmetry, however, the human rights violations are the same. Everyone has the right to seek asylum, and those recognised as refugees have a right to not be sent back to fighting or persecution – the principle of non-refoulement.

The Thai government denied this right to the 166 people from Burma, all considered refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The fact that Thailand has not ratified the UN Refugee Convention makes no difference: like the prohibition against torture, non-refoulement is customary international law, meaning that it applies to all states regardless of their treaty obligations. Once again, Thailand has committed a clear and direct violation of international refugee law.

Despite the ugly precedent set a year earlier, this action still came as a shock, given that on Oct 7 the Thai Foreign Ministry had publicly denied any “plans to repatriate to Burma displaced persons after the [Burmese] elections”. It was election day itself, Nov 7, when the first of roughly 20,000 refugees from Burma began to arrive in Thailand. And on Dec 6 – though after several incidents of refoulement had already occurred – Tak Governor Samart Loifa was quoted in this newspaper as stating that Thailand would not send refugees back as long as the fighting continued. This, sadly, was often not the case, for while most refugees have returned to Burma, many – like the 166 on Christmas – did so involuntarily. And the fighting has continued throughout.

My colleague and I concluded in our article a year ago that “Thailand’s disregard for its international legal obligations should not go without a response by the international community”, and I can only restate that now. UNHCR, which issued a statement in late December calling on Thailand to not forcibly return the 166, should condemn the action and reiterate its call vis-a-vis all refugees who remain in Thailand or may yet arrive. Embassies in Bangkok should do likewise, while countries on the UN Human Rights Council (which includes Thailand as a member and Thailand’s ambassador to Geneva as its president) should also raise concerns about this violation.

Indeed, it is now too late for the 166 Burmese refugees who have been forcibly returned, just as it was in 2009 for the 158 Lao Hmong refugees. But given ongoing conflict in Burma, refugees from there will continue to cross the border during 2011. Thailand, regardless of which party is in power, must acknowledge and uphold its international legal obligations.

Once is already once too often for human rights deja vu.

Benjamin Zawacki is Amnesty International’s researcher on Thailand and Burma.

Friday, January 7, 2011
Phuket News – Burmese man murdered in Phuket
Yodsak Jarana, Phuket,Thailand
11:31 local time (GMT +7)

PHUKET: Police are investigating the murder of a Burmese man found lying dead in shallow water off Kata Beach in Phuket yesterday.

Chalong Police were informed by local residents that a body was discovered in the water at the south end of Kata Beach at about 8am yesterday.

Arriving at the scene, they found the body of an Asian man below the water surface about five meters from a rocky outcrop.

A crowd gathered to watch rescue workers from the Phuket Ruamjai Kupai Foundation and Karon Municipality recover the body of the man, probably in his early twenties.

Initial examination found a single slash wound to the left side of the neck, but no other obvious signs of trauma.

Initial questioning of people in the area failed to determine the identity of the deceased.

At about 9:30am a woman,who happened to come by, said the body was that of a Burmese man known only as “Ya”, who worked with her at a nearby tom yum kung noodle shop.

The deceased’s female partner, also Burmese, had been out looking for him with friends since midnight the night before after he failed to return to their shared room.

Police suspect romantic jealousy may have been a motive for the killing because the late Mr Ya was known to have another lover, also Burmese.

Chalong Police Deputy Superintendent Boonlert Onklang said Mr Ya had worked legally at a well-known noodle shop in the area for over two years.

A Burmese woman seen with Mr Ya in the same area the night before has since fled.

She was an attractive woman who had many men interested in her, Mr Boonlert said. However, investigators are not ruling out other possible motives, he added.

A pool of dried blood, a bloodstained knife and a mobile phone found on a nearby rock indicate Mr Ya was killed in the same area.

Indian Express – Highway diplomacy
The Indian Express  Posted: Fri Jan 07 2011, 03:09 hrs

Losing out to China in the construction of an important stretch of the historic Stilwell Road, that once connected Ledo in Assam to Kumming in China, is a setback to the geopolitical calculations India has been making in its eastern neighbourhood. This section links the Pangsau Pass on the Arunachal Pradesh border to Myitkyina in Myanmar’s Kachin state.

New Delhi’s shortsightedness is an open book. Yet, in this case, India had expressed its eagerness to develop the stretch from Ledo to Tanai. Myanmar, long reluctant to reopen a road that courses through insurgent territory, has however preferred its best friend China.

The old Stilwell Road was built by General Joseph Stilwell during World War II, to outflank the advancing Japanese army and establish a land supply route to China. India awaited its reopening (and rebuilding of its damaged and disappeared portions) to provide its own landlocked Northeast with a much-needed gateway. Rebuilding and reusing this existing infrastructure would be the Northeast’s easiest entry into Southeast Asia. Strategically, the Stilwell Road would bolster India’s Look East policy and facilitate trade by opening border
points. But getting the opportunity to build a key section of the road would have helped India also check China’s pervasive and still-spreading influence in the region.

Nevertheless, if the Stilwell Road opens in near future, it’s welcome. India has alternatives too: its development of the Sitwe port on the Bay of Bengal will bring the Northeast closer to a commercial sea route, via the Kaladan river and a highway linked to NH 54. Besides, ambitious border infrastructure projects, such as in Manipur’s Moreh where NH 39 can eventually become part of a trans-Asian road system, are meant to develop and integrate the Northeast. Whether or not the reinvented Indo-Bangladesh relations bear fruit any time soon, border infrastructure must be upgraded, for larger trade volumes among other things. And this must be done unilaterally.

Instead of ruing an opportunity lost, Delhi should speed up and not let India’s neighbours dictate its pace and profit.

Monsters and Critics – Luc Besson quietly filming Aung San Suu Kyi biopic in Paris already
By Sophie Eager Jan 7, 2011, 10:57 GMT

French film director Luc Besson has quietly resumed filming his biopic about Aung San Suu Kyi in Paris with Michelle Yeoh.

Filming started on the movie about the Burmese opposition leader last year and Deadline Hollywood claims it has resumed in Paris.

It’s been reported Besson has been trying to keep filming on The Lady as quiet as possible because of the political situation after Suu Kyi’s release from prison in November.

Besson has been shooting the movie in Oxford, England, as well as Bangkok, Thailand, and it is claimed they were filming in Bangkok on the day of Suu Kyi’s release two months ago.

The movie follows Suu Kyi’s decision whether to fly back to England and look after her dying husband, who will be played by David Thewlis, or continue fighting for Burma’s democracy.

January 7, 2011 at 09:02:29
Opednews.com – Burma: No ethnic autonomy under military dominated sham parliament
By Zin Linn

Burma has already come to an end holding its namesake polls in last November. The elections were regarded as the ugliest vote rigging show of the country’s history. According to Burmese junta’s 2008 constitution, the incoming legislative body will convene its first session 90 days after the Election Day (7 November, 2010) to elect a president and two vice presidents and to form a new government. So, the new parliamentary session seems to be held in last week of this January as many political analysts have speculated.

Burma celebrated its 63rd anniversary of independence on 4th January, 2011. Burma gained its independence from Britain on 4 January, 1948. But the country experienced with democracy until 1962, when the military seized power to which it has since clung.

The current military junta has emerged in 1988 after violently suppressing mass pro-democracy protests. It held a general election in 1990, but refused to recognize the results after a landslide victory by the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who has just released from house-arrest recently. She was under detention for more than a decade and a half and freed on 13 November, 2010.

Some ethnic Shan leaders believe that the then Shan’s leadership decision to depart the British colonialism on 7th February 1947 had paved the way to Burma’s Independence sunshine on 4 January 1948. The decision was taken by the Shan States Council, comprising the ruling princes and people’s representatives of Shan States, as Shan State was known then, at the Panglong Conference from 3 to 12 February 1947.

So, up to this day, Shan community believe they deserve autonomy as a free people. However, Burmese military regime has no attitude to allowing equal status to the ethnic nationalities of Burma including the Shans. The major disagreement between junta and the opposition NLD led by Aung San Suu Kyi is no other than to give equal category to all ethnic groups.

Latest political scenario is still blurred although a multi-party general election on 7 November has been done. In accordance with the figures pronounced by Union Election Commission (UEC), a total of 1,148 candidates representing political parties and 6 independent candidates were elected as parliamentary representatives at three levels.

The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), led by Prime Minister Thein Sein, won the majority of 882 parliamentary seats or 76.43 percent out of the total1, 154 seats.

The USDP is followed by the National Unity Party (NUP) with 64 seats, Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP) with 57 seats, Rakhine Nationalities Development Party with 35 seats, National Democratic Force (NDF) and the All Mon Region Democracy Party (AMRDP) each with 16 at three levels of parliament.

Meanwhile, the SNDP Chairman Sai Aik Paung told a party conference in Taunggyi in mid-December that the party has achieved extraordinary unity among ethnic Shan nationals.   The December 13-15 conference set up about 180 members, including 57 winning candidates from the November 7 election, as said by the Myanmar Times December 20 – 26, 2010 Issue.

The Shan Nationalities Democratic Party won 57 of the 156 seats and the third-largest number of candidates in national and regional legislatures, after the USDP.

Simultaneously, the three ceasefire armed groups have challenged Burma Army that pressured them to transform into Border Guard Forces (BGFs). For that reason, the groups have come around declining BGF plan in order to avoid Burmese junta’s oppressive strategies.   The UWSA, the NDAA, and the Shan State Army-North are along with the other armed ethnic groups which are defying the military regime’s demands on them to join its Border Guard Force (BGF). Actually, the junta’s BGF program intended to win over the ceasefire groups through laying down their arms.

Coincidentally, the United Wa State Army (UWSA)’s political wing United Wa State Party (UWSP) has drawn another contradict proposal which includes a point to demand for a state with the Right of Self Determination from the new government, quoting UWSP sources Shan Herald Agency for News said.

The UWSP’s new proposal which is to be presented to the new parliamentary government expected to be held early 2011. In the proposal, UWSP says that their armed force will remain in the Wa State to defend their independence. Although they will not secede from the Union, they will steadfastly demand for a state with the Right of Self Determination from the upcoming government, upholding a policy of non-alignment and neutrality.

The said proposal was drawn at the UWSP’s 5th annual district level party congress which is being held in Mongmai, 170 km north of its main base Panghsang from 20 to 29 December. According to a Wa officer, after the December Congress, the UWSP leading party committee will send its delegation to talk with the new government on the basis of ‘Opposition to War’ and ‘Work for Peace and Development’ principle.

Subsequently, General meeting of the 3rd Central Standing Committee (CSC) of the 14th KNU Congress was fruitfully held from December 14 to 19, 2010, according to the Karen National Union (Supreme Headquarters) source. KNU adopted the four guiding principles delineated by the late heroic leader Saw Ba U Gyi. The four principles are “Surrender is out of the question”, “We shall retain our arms”, “Recognition of Karen State must be complete” and “We shall decide our own political destiny.”

KNU says in its statement dated 23 December 2010: “As the parliament and government that would come into being according to the SPDC Road Map were for realization of the 2008 Constitution, the meeting adopted the view that instead of resolving the problems faced by Burma, it would create more insecurity and conflicts, especially in the political and military fields.”

According to SPDC’s 2008 constitution, the incoming legislative body will convene its first session 90 days after the election to elect a president and two vice presidents and to form a new government.

However, the first issue the new government has to head on be the question of self-determination. The ethnic parties not only representing in parliament but also from outside of the legislative body have the same demand in favor of autonomy.

As the self-styled new civilian government is the rebirth of the same military itself, the ethnic autonomy seems to be out of question. Correspondingly, national reconciliation proposal by Burma’s Nobel laureate has also to be faced the same destiny. Thus, people of Burma have to continue struggle for national reconciliation plus self-determination.

Obviously, Burma’s military dictators have held the recent polls, not to restore freedom, justice and equality but to resume the military dictatorial power and to monopolize the country’s all-out economic opportunities.

The Irrawaddy – Military Firms Excluded From Tax Evasion Law
By WAI MOE Friday, January 7, 2011

Burma’s Internal Revenue Department has announced a new law targeting companies that evade tax as from Jan.1. However, the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEHL) and several other government enterprises are still exempt from the regulation, said an official.

The director of the Internal Revenue Department—which is under the direction of the Ministry of Finance and Revenue—explained the new regulation at a press conference on Dec. 31 at the office of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Rangoon, according to local journalists.

Director Aung Moe Kyi of the department said that the “Withholding Tax” law is aimed at all businesses, traders, NGOs and individuals with assets higher than 300,000 kyat (US $300), and states that they are liable to pay taxes of between 3 and 20 percent of their profits or earnings.

“However, state organizations and the UMEHL are not included in the Withholding Tax regulation,” Aung Moe Kyi said.

He did not clarify whether another military enterprise, the Myanmar Economic Corporation, is also excluded from the new tax regulation.

The military junta issued Decree 41/2010 on Withholding Tax on March  10, 2010, with a view to making it law by April last year.

However, the date for enforcement of the law was set as Jan. 1, 2011. The Internal Revenue Department also stated that only companies and individuals that comply with the regulation will be able to open legal bank accounts in Burma.

Since state enterprises and the UMEHL are excluded from the Withholding Tax regulation, a handful of military cronies who have stakes in massive state enterprises such as factories, mines, hydropower projects and state-owned buildings would appear to be exempt from the tax regulation too, said business sources in Rangoon.

The UMEHL was founded in 1990 under the 1950 Special Company Act, designated to support regimental welfare organizations, in-service and retired military personnel, and veteran organizations.

The military-run UMEHL has since enjoyed the privilege of tax exemption, analysts said, as it existed under the adjutant-general office of the military. Adjutant-General Maj-Gen Khin Zaw Oo currently chairs the organization.

However, from 2002 to 2010, the UMEHL was under the office of Military Ordnance, headed by Lt-Gen Tin Aye who is one of junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s most trusted subordinates. Tin Aye took over at the UMEHL when Lt-Gen Win Myint, a former adjutant-general, was removed in 2002.

Although Khin Zaw Oo is officially chairman of the UMEHL, Tin Aye reportedly still oversees the bureau, according to military sources. The UMEHL is currently managing at least 51 firms directly or within partnerships.

Observers routinely criticize Burma as being one of the most mismanaged nations in the world with a barely functioning economy and a corrupt tax system. According to data from the Internal Revenue Department, only 1.09 percent of more than 50 million people in the country pay tax.

On Jan. 4, the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) suggested in an economic analysis that systematic taxation throughout the nation would help to resolve Burma’s spiraling  inflation and financial problems.

The NLD also recommended that the rule of law be upheld and transparent, with accountable governance as well as equal business opportunities for all citizens in the country.
Irrawaddy correspondents in Rangoon contributed to this story.

The Irrawaddy – Ban Discusses Burma with Chinese FM
By LALIT K JHA Friday, January 7, 2011

WASHINGTON—The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, on Thursday discussed the current situation in Burma with visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

No Burma-specific readout of the meeting held at the UN headquarters in New York was available. Diplomatic sources, however, said the UN Secretary-General sought China’s help in restoring true democracy in the country and the release of all political prisoners.

According to UN spokesman Martin Nesirky, Ban and Yang also discussed Sudan, Ivory Coast and North Korea. During Thursday’s meeting, Ban expressed strong appreciation for China’s “active efforts” to revive the nuclear talks involving the two Koreas, the US, China, Japan and Russia, which have been stalled for nearly two years.

Rising tensions and the threat of war between North and South Korea also topped the agenda of Yang’s meeting in Washington on Wednesday with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Burma also was one of the topics of discussion when Yang met US leaders, including President Barack Obama, during his stay in Washington earlier this week.

The United States has a two-track approach in Burma, the State Department Deputy spokesman, Mark Toner, said.

“We do have a relationship [with the junta],” Toner said in response to a question. “And at the same time we’re seeking engagement, which admittedly hasn’t shown much progress and borne much fruit. But we’re also pushing them hard to release political prisoners and to take clear democratic steps.”

The Irrawaddy – Airport Just Latest Chinese Foray into Burma’s Transport Sector
By YAN PAI Friday, January 7, 2011

A Chinese company will invest US $100 million toward the construction of an airport near Naypyidaw, the new capital built by Burma’s ruling junta in 2004, in the latest move by China to expand its involvement in the Southeast Asian country’s transport sector.

The company, China Communications Construction (CCC), signed a deal to work on the project on Dec. 15 following a summit attended by Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein and senior officials from China, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam in Phnom Penh in November, according to a report by The South China Morning Post on Jan. 3.

Work on the project began in 2009, when Asia World, one of Burma’s largest conglomerates, won a $250 million contract to build the new airport on the site of a disused airport in Ela Township, according to Burmese business sources.

Weekly Eleven News, a Rangoon-based news journal, reported at the end of last year that the airport’s domestic and international terminals and runways are still under construction and are expected to be completed sometime in early 2011.

On its website, CCC said its contract with Burma’s Department of Civil Aviation will be financed by a loan from the state-owned China Exim Bank.

“This project will significantly increase the internationalization of the Myanmar [Burmese] capital of Naypyidaw and increase CCC’s influence in Myanmar,” the company said.

China has dramatically stepped up its investment in Burma in recent years and is increasingly turning to major infrastructure projects aimed at improving access to the country’s natural resources.

Among the more ambitious projects under discussion is a 1,920 kilometer rail link between Kunming, the capital of China’s Yunnan Province, and Burma’s main commercial city and former capital, Rangoon.

According to business sources, the railway line may be extended even further, to Tavoy in southern Burma’s Tenasserim Division, where Thai investors are planning a massive port development project.

Work on the railway line, which is part of a grand project to link China and its Southeast Asian neighbors, is reportedly set to begin construction this year.

There is also a plan to rebuild the Stilwell Road, constructed during the Second World War to enable the Allied Powers to assist China in its resistance to Japan’s occupying Imperial Army.

According to the British newspaper The Telegraph, the road, which stretches from the Kachin State capital of Myitkyina to Pangsau near the Indian border, will be rebuilt by the Yunnan Construction Engineering Company in a joint venture with Burma’s Yuzana Group under an agreement reached on Nov. 22 last year.

Last June, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao traveled to Burma to further promote already strong economic ties between the two countries. According to official statistics, China invested an estimated $8.2 billion in the Burmese economy in the first five months of last year, including $5 billion in the hydro-power sector.

One of the largest joint projects between China and Burma is a pipeline that will carry natural gas to Kunming from Burmese offshore fields in the Bay of Bengal. China also hopes to construct a railway line along this route, linking Kunming and the Arakan State deep-sea port of Kyaukpyu.

Despite rumors that Burma’s military leaders are wary of growing too dependent on Beijing for economic support, there are no signs that they are scaling back on plans to increase cooperation.

Following a state visit to China by junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe last September, the Chinese government agreed to provide a 30 billion yuan ($4.5 billion) interest-free loan to the regime.

Pearl emporium to be held in Naypyidaw
Friday, 07 January 2011 21:53
Mizzima News

New Delhi (Mizzima) – A national pearl emporium is scheduled for January 11 to 13, 2011 in the Burmese capital Naypyidaw, according to the Myanmar Pearl Production and Trading Enterprise.

A similar gems emporium was held in the new capital in November 2010 where gems and pearls were sold by tender and auction.

Unsold pearl lots from the November’s emporium, as well as newly arrived lots from Pearl Island with be auctioned.

A special viewing for merchants will be arranged for January 11, while the tender process and sale by auction will commence the day after.

Sales will be in Burmese kyat.

Successful successful bidders will be announced by tender numbers using an imported electronic system.

Last year’s gem emporium resulted in the sale of 237 out of 240 lots.

Kachins shun junta-organised Manau festival
Friday, 07 January 2011 21:58
Mizzima News

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Less than half the usual number of visitors attended this Manau festival commemorating Kachin State Day, which kicked off today in Myitkyina, according to festival organisers.

This year’s Manau festival will run for five days before ending on January 11.

Unlike previous years, the 2011 festival was organised under the supervision of the Burmese military regime’s northern command officers.

“There were around 800 people at the opening ceremony, much less than last year. I hope more people come and enjoy festivities tomorrow”, La Kari La Awng, head of the festival organising committee told Mizzima.

Another committee member said: “Last year visitors filled the entire grounds. But this year people are keeping away because of the heavy security presence from police, fire fighters and armed soldiers”.

“No one wants to visit, and those who did, were unhappy”.

Previous opening ceremonies have been attended by up to 4,000 people, mostly ethnic Kachins from Burma, but also from neighbouring countries.

Diplomats and tourists also usually attend the ceremony.

“Authorities reminded people over loudspeakers to enjoy the festival to drum up numbers. We saw mainly USDP party members and fire fighters. Other people included soldiers and police”, said a local resident who visited the festival today.

Besides police and soldiers, the local authorities ordered mandatory security detail from 15 fire fighters from 40 Myitkyina ward.

The number of festival goers was matched by the number of security personnel, according to another attendee.

Rev. Zong Kyang and Pastor Dau Khau from the Kachin Christian Churches inaugurated the festival at 8am with prayers.

Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) officials, who have resisted Burmese government pressure to transform into a Border Guard Force (BGF), did not officially attend today’s festivities.

Northern command leaders had only extended an invitation to them on January 4.

Military Affairs Security General Staff Officer of military affairs security, Colonel Thet Pone informed Colonel Jee Nau from the KIO liaison office in Myitkyina that while they could attend, they must appear in civilian clothes.

The Manau festival was re-branded in state-owned media this week as the ‘Union Manau Festival’, causing offense to many Kachins.