Burma’s Emerging Female Activists are Ready to Lead

In Burma, a long-closed country that’s just beginning to open its doors, courageous women are taking a cue from democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and guiding their communities into the 21st century.

Strong-willed and poised, Aung San Suu Kyi is inarguably Burma's most iconic symbol of its newfound freedom—a democracy leader who languished for years under house arrest in the struggle to bring political and human rights to her country until her release in 2010. Now, as Burma’s political environment evolves, Burmese women are following in the footsteps of "The Lady," as she's known, to ensure equality comes with it. The emergence of women’s rights is climbing to a crucial moment when female leaders much step up to claim their place in guiding the pliable nation into the 21st century. To achieve this, the women of Burma are seeking support in the international community, and a Thailand-based organization is working to sponsor some of the most promising, outspoken female leaders.

The We women foundation provides professional support and educational opportunities for women from marginalized communities in Burma. The foundation builds each woman’s capacity to make and influence policy decisions within their communities—a privilege that would otherwise be made by outsiders.

The foundation's Emerging Women of Burma documentary is part of a campaign launched in early December to raise awareness and seek financial support for the pivotal issues these budding leaders currently face in Burma. Many women in Burma who've spent years stifled under a military junta feel impassioned and motivated to take part in the struggle to gain human rights for their people, but without education they are pushed back into traditional roles that limit their freedoms.

The full documentary follows determinedly courageous women who, at risk to their personal safety and while battling significant challenges, are pioneering work on major social issues within their communities. Here's a peek at a few of these inspiring community activists.

Nang Wah Nu, Member of Parliament: Nang Wah Nu overcame the opposition of both her mother and her husband to enter politics. Now, she is a Member of Parliament in Burma as a representative of the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party. Not only is she one of the very few women in parliament, she is also one of the few women of a minority ethnic background to be elected. Her goal is to improve the rights and lives of migrant workers.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Mary Tawm, Founder of Life Vision Foundation:  Mary founded Life Vision Foundation (LVF) to organize training and publish research on environmental and human rights issues in the Burmese state of Kachin. LVF has worked on projects educating communities on water sanitation and community forestry and has conducted extensive documentation, reporting, and advocacy on the impacts of gold-mining by Chinese and domestic companies. She acts as spokesperson for Kachin people, discussing human-rights abuses and the plight of internally-displaced persons and refugees in local and international media.

----------------------------------------------------------------

E PleethBaung, Founder of GawngLoe Mu:  PleethBaung is from Lashio, Northern Shan State and is of Wa ethnicity. She is particularly dedicated to working for women’s empowerment and equality in remote areas of Burma, communities which are often ignored and unserved by the international community and the government of Myanmar itself. After her research in Ho Pang township, she founded the GawngLoe Mu (Three Mountains) organization to provide Wa women with educational programs.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Kay Thi Win, Founder of Aids Myanmar: Kay Thi has excelled at developing and managing complex programs providing for the health and human rights of sex workers, a highly stigmatized group in a harsh political environment. As founder of the Aids Myanmar Association, Nthe ational Network of Sex Workers and as chairperson of the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers, Kay Thi has had to overcome cultural barriers to serve those most in need with grace, patience and love.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Thazin Min, Founder of Colorful Girls: Thazin Min has built an organization committed to creating gender equality in Burma through programs centered on educating: connecting and fostering the development of voice and power among marginalized adolescent girls to break cycles of abuse, poverty and neglect. Under Thazin’s leadership, Colorful Girls conducts weekly open forums—called "circles"—increasing the young women's ability to make strategic life-decisions, generate choices, and exercise negotiating power.

----------------------------------------------------------------

DawThanMyint Aung, Founder of Thukayeikmyon: Daw Than Myint Aung is a passionate and tireless worker and philanthropist. She has established an orphanage for children with HIV; organized campaigns for the prevention and treatment of leprosy; and rallied support for the elderly and for family services. Aung is also a writer and hosts her own talk show in which she coaches people through government procedures and prohibitions while spreading her story to a wide audience.

----------------------------------------------------------------

KhinHnin Kyi Thar, Founder of Pakokku:  KhinHnin started an organization in Myaing, Pakokku district, an area in central Burma heavily affected by flooding and extreme poverty, that is building a school, providing healthcare, and providing basic needs to the poor. She also works as a librarian in Yangon, serves as a treasurer for the Storyteller’s Group which helps preserve the culture of storytelling for future generations, and is an intern and writer for Venus News Weekly journal.

http://www.thedailybeast.com

Land Confiscation in Mon State

Land Confiscation in Mon State

Controversial Land Confiscation in Tachileik

Controversial Land Confiscation in Tachileik

Workers Strike in Mandalay

Workers Strike in Mandalay

Farmers complaint non compensation over lands grabbed for rail project

Farmers complaint non compensation over lands grabbed for rail project

Mobile gold miners in Mon and Karen States

Mobile gold miners in Mon and Karen States

NLD Meeting in Royal Rose

NLD Meeting in Royal Rose

Vote-buying fears over MP funds plan

As MPs prepare to distribute US$100,000 for development projects in each township, we examine why some experts – and even MPs – are opposed to the idea.

USDP members canvass for votes before the April 2012 by-elections. Photo: Boothee

Parliamentarians  have vowed to press on with a planned K33 billion (US$33.67 million) constituency-funding program despite concerns about corruption and vote buying, and President U Thein Sein declaring it

unconstitutional.

A number of politicians and analysts said the introduction of the program will mark the start of campaigning for the 2015 election, as many MPs are likely to use the funding to try and shore up support in their constituencies.

“Most representatives want to use the money for their next election campaign,” said Pyithu Hluttaw representative U Ye Tun, adding that he agreed with the president’s argument.

“Most [MPs] do not understand the constitution well, about their legislative power, so they are just happy to get this funding.”

Independent political analyst U Kyaw Lin Oo said he was concerned about the prospect of vote-buying as MPs each dole out tens of thousands of dollars.

“I lived in Thailand for many years so I have seen [vote-buying] and the damage it has done to Thai politics,” he said. “I feel the president or executive branch is worried a bit about this … I don’t think [the president] actually believes it is unconstitutional.”

As The Myanmar Times reported in April, the program will see each township allocated K100 million for the financial year to March 31, 2014. The funds, which came from a K50 billion cut to the Nay Pyi Taw Council budget, will be distributed to development projects selected by MPs, with a maximum of K5 million for a single project. The idea reportedly came from Thura U Shwe Mann after he visited India and saw the country’s constituency funding program.

Earlier this month, President U Thein Sein wrote to parliament warning that constituency funding is unconstitutional because MPs would be exercising executive power. However, parliamentarians have already agreed to ignore the warning and continue with the plan, and The Myanmar Times understands about 70 townships are in the process of receiving funding.

U Ye Tun said he believes the president is unlikely to take the issue to the Constitutional Tribunal despite his warning because most MPs from his party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), support the plan. When the bill was voted on during the eighth session of parliament, virtually the only opposition came from Tatmadaw MPs.

But Pyithu Hluttaw representative U Aye Mauk from the USDP said the program was needed because the government does not provide enough support to communities.

“The government funding is not enough,” U Aye Mauk said. “Also, the government officials are not in every place but MPs are in each constituency, in every township. They are talking with people. They know about the situation in the villages and what is needed.

“I do not agree with the president. We have already discussed this in the parliament and agreed we are working according to the constitution.”

There are, however, concerns over how the funding will be administered and whether there will be enough safeguards to ensure it is spent properly. Under the law, village or ward committees submit project ideas to a “township support committee”, after which the four MPs from the township – one each from the Amyotha Hluttaw and Pyithu Hluttaw, and two from the state or region hluttaw – select which projects to support. They then submit the proposed project list to parliament for approval, after which the funding is distributed and put in a bank account. The support committee chooses a contractor to implement the project, and the contractor is paid upon completion of the work.

“Hluttaw representatives only have the right to choose the project, check the work after it is finished and, if it is okay, to pay the money,” U Ye Tun said.

He said the law contained “concrete and very strict rules” but he was still “worried about money being misspent”. Conflict could also occur in townships where the four MPs are from different parties with different priorities, he warned.

Internationally, constituency funding has generally made headlines for cases of corruption, most recently in the Philippines. In August, tens of thousands staged a protest in Manila demanding the constituency program be abandoned after MPs were accused of funnelling US$135 million into fake non-governmental organisations. On November 29, prosecutors recommended criminal charges against eight former MPs, including the country’s customs chief, who were accused of stealing more than $220 million.

But the negative effects of constituency funding are much more insidious, according to the International Budget Partnership, a coalition of civil society organisations focused on budgeting issues. The group argues that such programs breach separation of powers, weaken government service delivery and harm MP-constituent relations. These negative impacts are compounded when the program allocates funds equally among townships, regardless of need, it said in a 2010 briefing paper.

“Enough evidence exists to suggest that [constituency funding programs] put unwelcome pressure on service delivery and accountability systems in countries where these systems are already weak,” it said. “Rather than introduce [these programs], poor countries should strengthen their legislatures and pursue decentralisation programs more vigorously.”

MPs who support the program concede they are in uncharted territory but say they expect it will help bring benefits to constituents.

“This is our first time doing this,” said U Aye Mauk. “Actually we need more than this K100 million. This is the bare minimum for every township.”

U Kyaw Lin Oo said the relatively small amount for each township was probably deliberate, and would allow political leaders to see if the program is effective. “Maybe they will get the experience using the money and then later on they will increase the amount.”


By Thomas Kean
The Myanmar Times

Vote-buying fears over MP funds plan

As MPs prepare to distribute US$100,000 for development projects in each township, we examine why some experts – and even MPs – are opposed to the idea.

USDP members canvass for votes before the April 2012 by-elections. Photo: Boothee

Parliamentarians  have vowed to press on with a planned K33 billion (US$33.67 million) constituency-funding program despite concerns about corruption and vote buying, and President U Thein Sein declaring it

unconstitutional.

A number of politicians and analysts said the introduction of the program will mark the start of campaigning for the 2015 election, as many MPs are likely to use the funding to try and shore up support in their constituencies.

“Most representatives want to use the money for their next election campaign,” said Pyithu Hluttaw representative U Ye Tun, adding that he agreed with the president’s argument.

“Most [MPs] do not understand the constitution well, about their legislative power, so they are just happy to get this funding.”

Independent political analyst U Kyaw Lin Oo said he was concerned about the prospect of vote-buying as MPs each dole out tens of thousands of dollars.

“I lived in Thailand for many years so I have seen [vote-buying] and the damage it has done to Thai politics,” he said. “I feel the president or executive branch is worried a bit about this … I don’t think [the president] actually believes it is unconstitutional.”

As The Myanmar Times reported in April, the program will see each township allocated K100 million for the financial year to March 31, 2014. The funds, which came from a K50 billion cut to the Nay Pyi Taw Council budget, will be distributed to development projects selected by MPs, with a maximum of K5 million for a single project. The idea reportedly came from Thura U Shwe Mann after he visited India and saw the country’s constituency funding program.

Earlier this month, President U Thein Sein wrote to parliament warning that constituency funding is unconstitutional because MPs would be exercising executive power. However, parliamentarians have already agreed to ignore the warning and continue with the plan, and The Myanmar Times understands about 70 townships are in the process of receiving funding.

U Ye Tun said he believes the president is unlikely to take the issue to the Constitutional Tribunal despite his warning because most MPs from his party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), support the plan. When the bill was voted on during the eighth session of parliament, virtually the only opposition came from Tatmadaw MPs.

But Pyithu Hluttaw representative U Aye Mauk from the USDP said the program was needed because the government does not provide enough support to communities.

“The government funding is not enough,” U Aye Mauk said. “Also, the government officials are not in every place but MPs are in each constituency, in every township. They are talking with people. They know about the situation in the villages and what is needed.

“I do not agree with the president. We have already discussed this in the parliament and agreed we are working according to the constitution.”

There are, however, concerns over how the funding will be administered and whether there will be enough safeguards to ensure it is spent properly. Under the law, village or ward committees submit project ideas to a “township support committee”, after which the four MPs from the township – one each from the Amyotha Hluttaw and Pyithu Hluttaw, and two from the state or region hluttaw – select which projects to support. They then submit the proposed project list to parliament for approval, after which the funding is distributed and put in a bank account. The support committee chooses a contractor to implement the project, and the contractor is paid upon completion of the work.

“Hluttaw representatives only have the right to choose the project, check the work after it is finished and, if it is okay, to pay the money,” U Ye Tun said.

He said the law contained “concrete and very strict rules” but he was still “worried about money being misspent”. Conflict could also occur in townships where the four MPs are from different parties with different priorities, he warned.

Internationally, constituency funding has generally made headlines for cases of corruption, most recently in the Philippines. In August, tens of thousands staged a protest in Manila demanding the constituency program be abandoned after MPs were accused of funnelling US$135 million into fake non-governmental organisations. On November 29, prosecutors recommended criminal charges against eight former MPs, including the country’s customs chief, who were accused of stealing more than $220 million.

But the negative effects of constituency funding are much more insidious, according to the International Budget Partnership, a coalition of civil society organisations focused on budgeting issues. The group argues that such programs breach separation of powers, weaken government service delivery and harm MP-constituent relations. These negative impacts are compounded when the program allocates funds equally among townships, regardless of need, it said in a 2010 briefing paper.

“Enough evidence exists to suggest that [constituency funding programs] put unwelcome pressure on service delivery and accountability systems in countries where these systems are already weak,” it said. “Rather than introduce [these programs], poor countries should strengthen their legislatures and pursue decentralisation programs more vigorously.”

MPs who support the program concede they are in uncharted territory but say they expect it will help bring benefits to constituents.

“This is our first time doing this,” said U Aye Mauk. “Actually we need more than this K100 million. This is the bare minimum for every township.”

U Kyaw Lin Oo said the relatively small amount for each township was probably deliberate, and would allow political leaders to see if the program is effective. “Maybe they will get the experience using the money and then later on they will increase the amount.”


By Thomas Kean   
The Myanmar Times

Daw Aung San Su Kyi Kawt Hmu Trip

Daw Aung San Su Kyi Kawt Hmu Trip

Pottery Business at Pyinmana Villages

Pottery Business at Pyinmana Villages

More land fenced off at Latpadaung, locals devastated

By DVB

Over 50 residents from eight villages in Monywa, Saigang division, were left devastated after authorities fenced up over 300 acres of farmland that falls within the Latpadaung Mining Project area.

The residents have been refusing compensation for land taken from them to make way for the expansion of the mining project.

“In total 11.54 acres of my farmland was fenced up and now I have lost all hope,” said Yi Yi Win from Sete village.

“They bulldozed my bean and sesame crops, dumped the soil on the land and sprayed it with some kind of acid.”

Operations resumed at the controversial copper mine in October and authorities began bulldozing land, causing residents to renew their protests.

Recommendations by the Latpadaung Investigation Commission, headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, suggested that mine operators should create 1900 acres of farmland elsewhere, to substitute the residents’ lost land.

But this has not happened.

“Aung San Suu Kyi when she was here said we are allowed to turn down compensation and relocation of our villages,” said Amar Kyi from Sete village.

“So we decided to refuse compensation and not relocate our village, but despite this, they confiscated our land by force.”

The residents do not want to give up the land because they have been farming it for generations. Yi Yi Win said that without it, they will have nothing to pass on to their children.

“The money they are compensating won’t be enough to survive on and it will leave our children with nothing to rely on. This is why we just want the land but not the money.”

The Latpadaung implementation committee revealed last month that a US$1.68 million budget has been allocated for regional development, including programmes of job creation for locals; education; healthcare; electricity supply; supplying potable water; and transportation.

DVB

Pardoned activists return to their cells

By NAW NOREEN

Htin Kyaw and Aye Thein, two of the 41 jailed activists who were granted a presidential amnesty on 11 December, were back behind bars within hours for remaining charges.

Htin Kyaw, who was serving a two and a half year sentence in Rangoon’s Insein prison, was released on Wednesday only to be thrown back in detention on an additional sedition charge, according to his wife Than Than Maw.

“My husband arrived at the North Okkalapa township court on Wednesday to receive a pardon warrant,” she said, “and the judge insisted he apply for bail for another charge under Penal Code article-505(b). He was sent back to detention until the next court hearing because he wasn’t allowed to post bail without his [three] co-defendants.”

The pardon of labour activist Aye Thein, sentenced to one year and three months in jail last June for assisting vendors in last year’s protest against the proposed relocation of Kidan market in Mandalay, was similarly reneged. According to Aye Thein’s colleague, Amar Ni, he was immediately put back in his cell and is now facing two additional charges, one for sedition and another as yet unverified.

“He was granted amnesty for the market protest charges, but then he was kept in prison for two additional charges; one was for assisting farmers,” said Amar Ni, afterwards remarking on the irony of charging freshly pardoned activists.

“We can see that both the government’s policy and system are yet to change – they take credit for releasing political prisoners, they pledge that there won’t be any left, but then they just keep arresting them again,” she said. “Daw Naw Ohn Hla is back in prison and so is Ko Aye Thein in Mandalay – the government is still committing human rights violations.”

Naw Ohn Hla, the well known anti-Latpadaung Copper Mine activist, has bounced in and out of courts on various charges related to her political activity, and is currently detained awaiting trial on charges for ‘religious offences’ she allegedly committed in 2007.

Many of the prisoners pardoned on Wednesday, including Htin Kyaw, were originally charged under Article 18, Burma’s controversial Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Processions Law, which outlaws public gatherings of five or more people without prior permission from authorities.

Rights advocates have argued that President Thein Sein’s pledge to free all political prisoners by the year’s end and the government’s subsequent series of amnesties are undermined by the endemic use of the law to prosecute protestors.

This week’s presidential amnesty was granted on the same day as the opening of the 27th SEA Games in Naypyidaw, a regional sports championship that drew hordes of foreign visitors and catapulted Burma into the international spotlight.

DVB

Padaung tribes in Kayah State

Padaung tribes in Kayah State

Loi Taileng refugee camp at Thai Myanmar border

Loi Taileng refugee camp at Thai Myanmar border

Snapshot: Girl resting, Myanmar (2013), by Charlie Bibby

This photograph of a young girl was taken last month in the reception area of the paediatric oncology ward at the Yangon Children’s Hospital in Myanmar. The girl is exhausted after undergoing chemotherapy that morning, but the only place to rest is on a bench in an area that doubles as the outpatients’ examination department.

It is one of a set of images taken by the FT’s Charlie Bibby chronicling the work of World Child Cancer, the FT’s chosen charity for this year’s seasonal appeal. WCC works in Myanmar and eight other countries to give children diagnosed with cancer a fighting chance of survival.

To find out more about WCC’s vital work and to donate online, go to www.ft.com/seasonalappeal

Chinese firms sign $733m cement deal in Nigeria, Myanmar

December 14, 2013 by Agency Reporter

Two Chinese firms, Sinoma and CITIC Heavy Industries, have agreed deals totalling $733m to produce cement in Nigeria and Myanmar, respectively, as they expand in emerging markets overseas.

Reuters reported that Sinoma International Engineering Company Limited, a unit of China National Materials Company Limited, signed a $536m contract with Nigeria’s Dangote Cement Plc, Sinoma and National Materials said in separate statements on Thursday.

Sinoma and Dangote, owned by Nigerian billionaire, Aliko Dangote, who is Africa’s richest man, will be building two clinker cement production lines, each with a daily capacity of 6,000 tonnes.

Meanwhile, CITIC Heavy Industries is collaborating in Myanmar with a unit of Siam Cement Group, Mawlamyine Cement Limited, on a cement production facility with a capacity of 5,000 tonnes per day, it said in a statement.

“The signing of the project and a smooth implementation will have a positive impact on the company’s future operations,” CITIC Heavy said.

“It will also further develop the company’s presence in the southeast Asian cement market, giving a boost to our financial results.”

The project, worth $197m, follows a similar contract that CITIC Heavy and Thailand’s Siam Cement signed in May to build a cement production line in Cambodia, CITIC said in the filing on the Shanghai stock exchange.

In November, China Machinery Engineering Corporation entered a $236m agreement with Kar Group for a 6,000 tonne-per-day cement plant project in Iraq.

The Thursday announcements came after the China and Hong Kong markets closed.

Sinoma’s shares ended 0.12 per cent lower at 8.35 yuan, while CITIC Heavy’s stock closed 0.29 per cent higher at 3.49 yuan, compared with the Shanghai composite index’s 0.06 per cent fall.

China National’s shares finished 0.57 per cent lower at HK$1.75, roughly in line with the Hang Seng Index’s 0.51 per cent fall.

The Punch

Daw Aung San Su Kyi at SEA Games Event

Daw Aung San Su Kyi at SEA Games Event

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi speech at Doha WISH conference

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi speech at Doha WISH conference

NLD youth who lost both hands in an electrical accident

NLD youth who lost both hands in an electrical accident

Local residents complaints waste from animal feed factory

Local residents complaints waste from animal feed factory

Health care and education for tribes in Karen hills

Health care and education for tribes in Karen hills

Interview with Lt. Gen. Yawd Serk of RCSS SSA Chief

Interview with Lt. Gen. Yawd Serk of RCSS SSA Chief


Cars burnt as workers riot in Singapore's Little India

December 09, 2013 AFP

SINGAPORE : A riot broke out among South Asian workers in Singapore late Sunday, damaging police cars and other vehicles in the city state's Little India district, eyewitnesses and local media said. The rare outbreak of public disorder in strictly controlled Singapore took place in an area normally packed with thousands of workers, mostly from the Indian subcontinent, on their day off.
The cause of the incident was not immediately clear and the situation was brought under control within two hours, people on the scene told AFP. "Police confirm a riot has occurred at the junction of Race Course Road and Hempshire Road at 9.23pm," the Singapore Police Force said in a statement on its Facebook page. "Police officers are at scene and are dealing with the situation. The public is advised to keep away from the affected area." It gave no further details. Pictures on social media showed at least two vehicles including an ambulance burning on a street.
An AFP reporter on the scene saw a police car and an ambulance with damaged windows after the incident.

The Nation

Residents Charged by Nay Pyi Daw Authorities in Land Dispute

Residents Charged by Nay Pyi Daw Authorities in Land Dispute

Land Dispute in Pyin Oo Lwin Township

Land Dispute in Pyin Oo Lwin Township

Shan New Year Event in Chiangmai

Shan New Year Event in Chiangmai



Worries for Myanmar as SEA Games starts

'100% READY.' In this picture taken on November 30, 2013, a Myanmar police officer walks in the sport center ahead of the Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) in Naypyidaw. AFP / Ye Aung Thu

by Agence France-Presse

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar – Empty seats and security concerns top the list of worries as Myanmar gears up for the Southeast Asian Games, the biggest sports event ever held in the former pariah state.

Thousands of athletes, officials, fans and media will converge for the Games, which are slowly getting under way ahead of the opening ceremony on December 11.

Two years after the end of military rule and the lifting of Western sanctions, Myanmar is hoping to shine in the international spotlight during the 22-day event.

But officials are also keen to avoid the spectacle of empty venues in the new national capital, Naypyidaw, and any security threat from Myanmar's various rebel groups.

Logistical hurdles also loom including an expected lack of hotel rooms to accommodate the expected 6,000 athletes and 3,000 media, plus officials and fans.

While not quite on the scale of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China's bold statement of arrival, the Games mark an important moment for Myanmar's image and prestige.

Myanmar, a founding member of the competition, has not played host since 1969, since when its deteriorating economy has forced it to take a back seat.

The country is now desperate to put on a good show for its neighbors at the tournament, which is held every two years and is one of the region's sporting highlights.

As final preparations continued around Naypyidaw, the capital built under military rule, Vice President Nyan Tun called on athletes to "strive for a golden age of Myanmar sports".

He said the onus was on "improving the reputation of the country and making history to be regarded as sporting heroes", according to an official release.

Myanmar is one of Southeast Asia's poorest countries, with about a third of the population of in poverty, meaning expectations are set reasonably low.

But Myanmar will hope to improve on the last edition in Indonesia in 2011, which was plagued by corruption and delays and finished with a deadly stampede among fans at the men's football final.

Chief among organizers' concerns will be flare-ups in ethnic unrest after bomb blasts and clashes in parts of the country in recent weeks.

"Thousands of athletes and officials and also thousands of fans will come," a senior police official told Agence France-Presse. "Although we tried our best for security with enough numbers, I'm a little bit nervous."

Organizers have tried to fill seats at the brand-new venues in Naypyidaw ("Royal City of the Sun") by offering free tickets for all events apart from football.

However, with residents in short supply at the sprawling and far-flung capital, whose huge boulevards are often devoid of traffic, swathes of empty seats are likely.

And although officials insist preparations are complete, worries persist over how Myanmar will accommodate all the visitors.

"Hotel rooms cannot be enough because many foreigners and many visitors will come," a government official, who did not want to be named, told Agenc France-Presse.

"Tens of thousands of people will join the events. Hopefully everything can be done smoothly. Cooperation between ministries is very weak," he said.

Naypyidaw will host most of the Games, while the former capital Yangon, 300 kilometers (190 miles) south, has men's football, body-building, weightlifting and kempo, a martial art.

Competition is already under way in an eclectic roster which ranges from Olympic staples such as swimming and athletics to home-grown disciplines all but unknown outside the region.

Chinlone, a Myanmar sport involving delicate foot control of a wicker ball, is one of the opening events, as is the Indonesian-origin martial art of pencak silat.

Vovinam, an acrobatic Vietnamese fighting sport, is another on the list and among the 460 gold medals on offer, 11 are for petanque, a legacy of French colonialism in the region.

For the formal opening ceremony on December 11, up to 30,000 spectators including heads of state will be present at Naypyidaw's Wunna Theikdi Stadium. – Rappler.com

Digicel poised to enter Myanmar mobile market in phone mast deal

A trishaw rider carries a passenger and chickens from a bazaar in Yangon, Myanmar
Thomas Molloy – 03 December 2013

DIGICEL said it will join a consortium to supply and build mobile phone masts in Myanmar

The news is a boost to Digicel which lost out earlier this year in a competition to win a mobile phone licence in the country which used to be known as Burma. While Digicel already operates in 31 markets, Myanmar's 56 million people make the country a massive market.

Building telecommunications networks is expected to bring a leap forward in digital technology that could speed up economic development in Asia's poorest country after Afghanistan.

Digicel, which is controlled by businessman Denis O'Brien, will join forces with YSH Finance and Ooredoo Myanmar to build the masts through a consortium called Digicel Asian Holdings.

"We are delighted to work with Ooredoo to help develop a high-quality telecommunications network across the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, contribute to the growth of the Myanmar economy and benefit Myanmar citizens across all of the country's states, regions and union territories," Mr O'Brien, who is the largest shareholder in INM, said in a statement yesterday.

Qatar's Ooredoo beat a Digicel-led consortium which included financier George Soros in June to provide telecommunications services in Myanmar. The other company to win a licence was Norway's Telenor. Ooredoo plans to spend $15bn (€11bn) over the 15-year licence period, including operational and capital expenditure, licence fees and taxes.

"It's not a mobile-phone business we are building, it's a broadband network," Ooredoo boss Jeremy Sell told Reuters over the summer. Myanmar is one of the biggest untapped mobile phone markets in the world. With dense jungle in many areas and almost no mobile communications infrastructure, the country is a challenging market for newcomers.

The country is only slowly returning to democracy after suffering for years under a junta. A quasi-civilian government came to power in 2011 after 49 years of military rule.

Digicel is now united with YSH Finance which is a unit of Singapore-listed financial services and property group SPA Myanmar Group. That consortium now plans to join forces with Ooredoo. They will compete with Telenor, which has 150 million customers worldwide and operates in neighbouring Thailand and Bangladesh. It plans to launch its network next year and achieve nationwide coverage within five years.

Irish Independent

Yangon Land Protesters Pledge to Fight to the Last Breath

Migyaungkan protesters demonstrate at a protest camp in Yangon, Dec. 2, 2013. RFA
Residents fighting a decades-old battle for compensation for land they say they were driven out from by the military in the eastern part of Myanmar’s biggest city Yangon have stepped up their protests, saying they are prepared to confront the authorities until their last breath.

The protesters, who lived in the Migyaungkan area of the city’s Thingangyun township until they were forced from their homes in 1991 during the previous military junta rule, gathered for a fresh demonstration on Monday following the arrest last week of several of their members.

“We have pledged to fight to the death because no government official has … responded to our demands,” protester Nay New Than told RFA’s Myanmar Service as the demonstrators established a fresh protest camp as a focal point to champion the issue.

They claim the military seized their ancestral land and forced them to relocate to fringe areas of the city, including to North and South Dagon Myothit townships and an area close to the Bago Yoma forest in neighboring Bago region.

They are demanding that the authorities stop further construction on the disputed land—where luxury buildings have been put up among other projects—and resolve the dispute as soon as possible, and release those jailed for demonstrating over the issue.

Their call prompted a visit from Colonel Tin Win, the Yangon Region Border and Security Affairs Minister, who met with protest leaders at the Thingangkuun administrative office, asking them to close the protest camp and to proceed with their protest within the bounds of the law.

Several protesters have been held since the group started staging protests in October, including protest leader Sein Than who was held last week for demonstrating without a permit.

A round-the-clock protest near City Hall in downtown Yangon last month ended after three days following the intervention of two lawmakers from parliament’s land dispute investigation commission, according to the Myanmar Times.

Last week, some 300 protesters marched from a high school to the Myasaryanaye Stupa in Thingangkuun, many of them carrying placards demanding the return of their land, the Myanmar Eleven media group reported.

According to the protestors, some senior military officers and their business cronies are living in luxury buildings in Migyaungkan Ward 3, it reported.

Reported by Kyaw Zaw Win for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

Myanmar looks abroad for investment in healthcare

By Jared Ferrie

YANGON Mon Dec 2, 2013

Dec 3 (Reuters) - Yangon General Hospital was once the jewel in the crown of one of Southeast Asia's best healthcare systems.

These days, hundreds of patients are forced to sleep in corridors of the hulking, colonial-era red-brick building, dogs doze on the floor of the emergency ward and garbage is piled in corners.

It is a scene that Myanmar's reformist government hopes to change as it ratchets up spending on the sector and seeks foreign investment to revive one of Asia's sickest healthcare systems.

Several leading regional healthcare companies are already operating in Myanmar and others plan to enter soon, seeing huge potential in the country's underserved population of about 60 million people.

Attracting foreign investment is part of an overhaul of the healthcare system by the quasi-civilian government that took over from the army in 2011. The administration of President Thein Sein has cut military spending and raised healthcare funding to 3 percent of government spending this fiscal year to March 31, from 1 percent the previous year.

As with many sectors, however, private firms say they are being held back by uncertainty over rules for foreign investors.

The health ministry is drawing up regulations for foreign hospital operators to open facilities in Myanmar independently or through joint ventures, said a senior ministry official, who requested anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to media.

PRIVATE INVESTMENT

Bangkok Dusit Medical Services Pcl, Thailand's largest private hospital group, sees Myanmar as the company's "first priority for foreign investment", said Chief Operating Officer Chatree Duangnet.

But Duangnet added that the company was waiting for the government to make the investment laws clearer.

Amiruddin Abdul Satar, president of Kuala Lumpur-listed hospitals operator KPJ Healthcare Bhd, told Reuters his company was involved in the management of one hospital already and the government had invited them to expand. The company declined to give further details or reveal the amount of its planned investment.

Singapore healthcare provider AsiaMedic Ltd said in a June statement it had signed an initial joint venture agreement with Five Oceans Service Co Ltd, a Myanmar company, to invest at least $3 million to set up diagnostic scanners in two hospitals in the northern city of Mandalay.

Patients in Myanmar currently have to travel to cities such as Bangkok and Singapore for scans.

A spokesperson for AsiaMedic told Reuters on Nov. 5 that the companies had yet to sign a definitive agreement.

The role private companies will play in the healthcare system remains to be determined, said Hnin Hnin Pyne, a senior human development specialist with the World Bank who is working with the government on healthcare reform.

"How is this going to benefit the poor? For me that is a massive question," she said, adding that the government has set a goal to provide health coverage to all citizens by 2030.

At a Nov. 25 meeting in the capital, Naypyitaw, Health Minister Pe Thet Khin said cooperation between the government and private sector would be key in achieving universal coverage, the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported.

Hnin Hnin Pyne said the government was still deciding whether healthcare will be free or subsidized.

"DRASTIC IMPROVEMENT"

The healthcare system wasted away during decades of neglect under military rule, so that currently the high price is beyond the means of many in one of Asia's poorest countries, while those who can afford it often seek treatment overseas.

When Aung Myint, 67, was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2005, he went to Thailand rather than be operated on in Myanmar, where a family member had died of tetanus after undergoing a minor operation.

"It was my two sons, both of them doctors, who insisted I shouldn't receive the treatments here," he said.

In 2000, during the dark days of dictatorship, the World Health Organization ranked Myanmar second-last out of 191 countries surveyed for "overall health system performance".

By the 2009/2010 fiscal year, patients in Myanmar had to cover 81 percent of their healthcare costs themselves, the highest of any country in Asia, according to World Bank data. That compared with 56 percent in Vietnam, 40 percent in Laos, 14 percent in Thailand and 35 percent in China.

"Now, because public spending has gone up, out-of-pocket is around 60 percent," said Hnin Hnin Pyne. "That doesn't mean it's not a problem."

Tha Hla Shwe, who became president of the Myanmar Red Cross Society in 2004 after working in the public health system since 1966, said the increased spending was already paying dividends. "Lately, I would say it's improving quite drastically," he said.

Aung Myint Lwin, the senior administrator of Yankin Children's Hospital in Yangon, said increased funding has meant his 550-bed hospital can now supply drugs free of charge to patients who can't afford to pay.

He said he hoped the hospital would one day be able to provide free medical care to every child who visits the hospital.

"That is our dream," said Aung Myint Lwin. "In the near future I believe the dream will become true." (Additional reporting by Minzayar Oo and Aung Hla Tun in YANGON, Yantoultra Ngui in KUALA LUMPUR, Eveline Danubrata in SINGAPORE, Manunphattr Dhanananphorn in BANGKOK; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Reuters

Govt rejection of quadripartite meeting ‘unacceptable’: NLD


By DVB

The National League for Democracy (NLD) issued a public statement on Monday, 2 December, reiterating calls for a quadripartite conference on constitutional reform, calling the government’s refusal to meet “unacceptable” and accusing the government of intentionally and indefinitely putting off discussions.

“Postponing these discussions will not benefit the country’s citizens and will only delay reform,” read the statement, which further claims that the government’s unwillingness to meet with the opposition reveals reluctance for real reform.

Last week the NLD, Burma’s leading opposition party, requested a conference between the president, the parliament, the military and NLD party leaders aimed at preparing for amendments to Burma’s heavily criticised 2008 Constitution.

Presidential spokesman Ye Htut promptly responded that such discussions should be “all-inclusive” and should not give preference to the NLD. He also said that discussions should be held off until after a parliamentary Joint-Committee for Reviewing the Constitution has released its findings, expected by 31 December.

While this announcement does not preclude the meeting altogether, it does postpone discussions until January 2014 at the earliest, which NLD representatives argue is an unnecessary delay.

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Sunday called the government’s refusal for quadripartite constitutional discussions “inconsistent” with reform, during an address to the Burmese community in Melbourne, Australia.

“I have a duty to point out inconsistencies within the government,” Suu Kyi said.

In response to the government’s position that the NLD should not be granted the special privilege of a quadripartite meeting, Suu Kyi said that, “We are generally accepted as the main opposition party. Democratic countries allow space and support for opposition parties. Our demand is not unreasonable. This is standard democratic procedure.”

Suu Kyi related that in 1988 and 1989, just before being placed under house arrest, she made several requests to meet with Snr-Gen Saw Maung, and was similarly denied the opportunity for a meeting, suggesting that the government is still systematically preventing discourse.

NLD party members have been conducting polls in several parts of the country, including all major cities and some townships in ethnic states, to gauge public opinion on constitutional reform. NLD representatives claim that the vast majority of those surveyed would prefer amendment to a complete rewrite, and that opinion seems unanimous that Burma’s highly controversial constitution must be changed.

While the survey has already been held in several townships across Burma, polling was said to be disrupted in Naypyidaw and several villages in Mon State.

The NLD was initially denied a permit to conduct polls in the capital city of Naypyidaw, after a similar event in Rangoon drew nearly 20,000 people who were overwhelmingly supportive of constitutional amendment.

Among the major criticisms of Burma’s 2008 constitution is a provision that guarantees 25 percent of parliamentary seats to the military, and a severely prohibitive amendment process that requires 75 percent parliamentary approval for all changes.

Burma’s current constitution also contains a clause that would prevent Suu Kyi from seeking the presidency in the upcoming 2015 elections, by virtue of having been married to a foreigner.


Myanmar Opens Up SEZ Project to International Companies

The Dawei SEZ in Myanmar's Tanintharyi region, May 15, 2012. Bangkok Post
Myanmar is allowing international investors to bid for a mammoth project to develop a special economic zone in its southernmost region following the withdrawal of the sole developer, a Thai company, which had been unable to secure partners for the venture, an official said Monday.

Chairman of the Management Committee of Dawei SEZ Han Sein told a press conference in Yangon that developer Italian-Thai Development Pcl ITD.BK—Thailand's largest construction group—had terminated its work on the project in Myanmar’s Tanintharyi region to make way for international bidders.

“Myanmar Port Authorities (MPA) and Italian-Thai had an agreement in place to work on this project previously,” Han Sein, who is also Myanmar’s deputy minister of Transport, said at the MPA office.

“We ended this [agreement] because we want [to open the project up to] international investment,” he said.

Plans for the Dawei SEZ include a deep-sea port, industrial zone, steel plant, fertilizer plant, coal and natural gas-fired power plant and water supply system.

The SEZ will have a motorway linked to Thailand’s Kanchaburi province, as well as a railroad hub, links to oil and gas pipelines, and electrical cable lines.

The initial phase of the project includes a two-lane road, a small wharf which can accommodate 13,000-20,000 tons of vessel, an industrial zone involving labor intensive industries, a power plant, a residential building, a water supply system and communication lines.

China’s Xinhua news agency quoted Han Sein as saying the work Italian-Thai had already completed would be undergoing a due diligence assessment by international consulting firms and that the company would be permitted to re-tender for the initial phase of the project when bidding opens on Dec. 20.

The tender will open on March 31, 2014 and construction is set to begin on May 15. Construction costs for the project are estimated at around U.S. $8.6 billion.

Han Sein also said that the project area had been reduced to 196 square-kilometers (75.6 square-miles) from 204.5 square-kilometers (79 square-miles) and will be implemented in two phases.

The initial phase will cover around 10 percent of the overall project, which is expected to take five years to complete, Xinhua reported.

Myanmar and Thailand—which agreed two years ago to implement the project on a 50-50 basis—had revoked Italian-Thai’s 75-year concession, citing the company’s failure to secure private investment and to agree on a power source for the SEZ, according to news reports.

The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in Bangkok late last month transferring the concession to Dawei SEZ Development Co. (DSEZ), a new 50-50 special-purpose vehicle set up by the neighboring nations to run the project.

Another MOU obliges new investors to reimburse Italian-Thai for the money it has invested in building roads and other facilities at the site following its due diligence assessment, which is expected to be finished in May.

Reuters news agency had quoted former economist and current Myanmar deputy central bank governor Set Aung as saying that the sidelining of Italian-Thai could allow Japanese industrial and hi-tech firms already established in neighboring Thailand to become involved in the project.

He said that Japanese companies, which are eager to take advantage of investment reforms introduced by President Thein Sein since taking power from Myanmar’s former military junta two years ago, would “most likely announce their intentions” in December, when Dawei is due to be discussed on the sidelines of a regional meeting in Tokyo.

dawei-map-400.jpgAttracting investors

Observers said that while the decision to take back the concession might frighten off some potential investors in the SEZ, the move will buoy the confidence of others who were concerned by the lack of transparency involved in the original agreement, which was made between Italian-Thai and Myanmar’s former military government in the 1990’s.

"I believe this is a very positive development. Investors will have more confidence dealing with DSEZ and be more positive about investing in the Dawei SEZ with DSEZ as the regulator," Albert Chandler of Chandler and Thong-ek Law Offices Ltd in Bangkok told the Bangkok Post.

He said Italian-Thai will likely be engaged as a contractor by several projects in Dawei.

John Fotiadis, senior member of Bangkok legal firm Atherton Co., said it seems Italian-Thai is negotiating agreeable terms with both governments.

"Given so, we do not believe this will have negative repercussions for foreign investors considering future investment," he told the Post.

"From what we've observed, it seems there are unique circumstances in this case due to the size of the project, changes in the government, changes in international sanctions and internal factor, and they are not necessarily due to Myanmar rules and regulations."

However, some analysts suggested that if the regulatory framework in Myanmar makes the project expensive, difficult, or complicated to comply with, bidders are more likely to opt out.

Reported by Kyaw Lwin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Cambodian Authorities Move to Sue Pro-Opposition Newspaper Publisher

A file photo of Dam Sith, publisher of the Moneaksekar Khmer newspaper, being detained by military police in June 2008. AFP PHOTO
Cambodian authorities are moving to file a lawsuit against a pro-opposition newspaper publisher after his paper stood by its article accusing Prime Minister Hun Sen of using the military to illegally gain votes in recent national polls.

A government spokesman said Monday that the Ministry of Defense is pursuing a complaint against the Moneaksekar Khmer newspaper after it had refused to run a clarification requested by Hun Sen’s cabinet on the report last month.

The paper’s publisher Dam Sith is a lawmaker-elect of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which has challenged official results of the July national elections and accused the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) of fraud.

The paper published a story on Nov. 13 quoting CNRP Deputy President Kem Sokha as saying in an interview with a foreign media outlet that the government had used the military to “steal” votes in the July 28 election in which the CPP was declared victor.

Dam Sith said the case over the article was the latest of many attempts by the authorities to intimidate him into shutting the publication down because of its criticism against the government.

“The newspaper has received threats for many years and this is the newest one,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.

“They are using the case as a pretext to try to shut down the Moneaksekar Khmer,” he said.

Council of Ministers' request refused

The paper’s article had first prompted a protest from the Council of Ministers—Prime Minster Hun Sen’s cabinet—asking it to run a clarification about the voting fraud accusation.

The paper declined to do so, and after waiting nearly three weeks, the Council of Ministers transferred the case to the Ministry of Defense to pursue a lawsuit, council spokesman Phay Siphan told RFA. 

The case needed to be handled by the Ministry of Defense because the article had affected the “reputation” of the armed forces, he said, adding that the case was being examined by the military court. 

“The case is out of our hands now. We have sent the case to Ministry of Defense lawyers who deal with the military court,” he said.

Lawsuit

It remains unclear what kind of lawsuit the paper could face.

Ou Virak, director of the local advocacy group the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said that in the recent case the Moneaksekar Khmer could face either a defamation suit or a lawsuit related to harming national security.

Either way, it would not be appropriate for any lawsuit against Dam Sith to come from the military court, since he is a civilian, he said.

“Regardless of whether the lawsuit is about defamation or national security, it is wrong to use the military court,” he told RFA.

In 2008, Dam Sith spent a week in prison after being accused by the foreign minister of disseminating false information.

A month later, Khem Sambo, a hard-hitting reporter for the paper, and his son were shot and killed after the paper published an article critical of high-level corruption.

The government has objected to CNRP’s repeated calls for an independent probe into claims of voter fraud in the elections.  

The opposition says it has been robbed of victory and has boycotted parliament over the dispute.

Reported by Tep Soravy for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

HIV, AIDS in Myanmar key focus for Aung San Suu Kyi, though there's still 'a long way to go'

By Katie Silver

Aside from meeting with politicians and supporters, one of Aung San Suu Kyi's major roles in Australia is to speak today at Melbourne's celebration of World AIDS Day.

The democracy activist's commitment to HIV/AIDS is not new.

"She's long been committed to this issue," Eamonn Murphy, country coordinator of UNAIDS Myanmar, said.

After she came out of house arrest, one of the first places she went to was a hospice for people receiving HIV treatment, Mr Murphy says.

In 2012, Ms Suu Kyi was named as UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador.

"She had a resonance around the issue of exclusion and people having a right to be a part of their own society," he said.

In Myanmar, 200,000 people live with HIV/AIDS. Most live on the fringe as drug users, sex workers or gay men.

"Regionally, it's in the top group of countries both in prevalence and the impact it has on people's lives," Mr Murphy said.

While the numbers have shown a downward trend, Mr Murphy puts this largely down to "people dying because they don't access care."

"Discrimination is the hardest barrier we have in HIV as it stops people accessing treatment," he said.

If you are found to have HIV in Myanmar you are likely to lose your job, he says.

Stigma, discrimination, fear of the unknown and notions around bad luck all help the disease spread in Asia.

And the country's chequered political history has not helped.

"The health situation in Myanmar is dire after 50 years of military rule," Mr Murphy said.

He says for decades there was little domestic support to combat HIV/AIDS and a refusal to accept global support.

This put Myanmar way behind its neighbours, such as Cambodia and Thailand, when it came to providing the best antiretroviral treatments.

"The country has to be rebuilt - there's lots of catch-up to do."
Budget increase but there's still 'a long way to go'

In the past couple of years, the Myanmar government has quadrupled the health budget.

"With increased financial resources it should be possible to meet targets," Medecins Sans Frontieres head of mission in Myanmar Peter Paul de Groote said.

Mr De Groote says Myanmar needs decentralised hospitals and expertise on HIV care to spread outside of the main centres.

"Many more treatment sites will have to be opened" and treatment for stable patients needs to be simplified, he says.

National NGO Network chairperson Nwe Zin Win says there have been improvements with more people accessing antiretroviral treatments and an increased presence of grass roots organisations.

Still, she says Myanmar faces three diseases: HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.

Mr Murphy says work needs to be done to reduce stigma.

"There's a long way to go but, in conjunction with Aung San Suu Kyi, we're working on it," he said.

UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibe will speak alongside Aung San Suu Kyi in Melbourne.

"She will inspire the people of Australia to speak out against HIV stigma and discrimination on World AIDS Day," he said.

ABC Online

Myanmar's Daw Suu mobbed in Melbourne

Jacqui Peake

Hundreds of people from Melbourne's Burmese community waited since the early morning to hear Aung San Suu Kyi speak.

Myanmar Opposition Leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks to the Burmese community in Dandenong, in Melbourne's outer south-east, December 1st, 2013. (Credit: ABC)

The basketball stadium in Dandenong, in Melbourne's outer south-east, is not one of the usual stops on the tours of international dignitaries.

But this morning, hundreds of members of Melbourne's Burmese community mobbed Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi as she arrived at the stadium, while teenagers played basketball on one of the courts.

The crowd was mostly dressed in traditional clothing.

They had been waiting since the early morning to catch a glimpse of a woman they idolise.

Sawm Suante is a Burmese refugee.

"I'm very excited to see someone from Burma who is a great leader and supporter of democracy," he said, while he waited for the Nobel Peace Laureate to arrive.

"She is a prominent leader for the Burmese, she's important because she believes in equality, she believes in democracy and she fights for that."

Aye Zaw grew up in Australia, but as a member of the local Burmese community she has grown to adore Ms Suu Kyi.

"We are all here to thank her and to support her so she can become the president of Burma," she said.

Ms Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest while her country was under military rule, intends to run for Myanmar's 2015 presidential elections.

Hau Api moved to Australia three years ago and will closely watch his homeland's election campaign.

He hopes Ms Suu Kyi, who leads the National League for Democracy, is successful.

"We need democracy," he said.

Ms Suu Kyi will address a World AIDS Day event at Government House in Melbourne later today in the final leg of her five-day Australian tour.

Radio Australia 

Myanmar's Suu Kyi urges "freedom from fear" on World AIDS Day

Myanmar Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi urged greater openness and compassion in the global struggle against AIDS as experts warned against complacency despite falling infection rates.

Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks at a World AIDS Day function at Government House in Melbourne, on Dec 1, 2013. (AFP/Paul Crock)

SYDNEY: Myanmar Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi urged greater openness and compassion in the global struggle against AIDS as experts warned against complacency despite falling infection rates.

Suu Kyi, the UNAIDS global advocate for HIV/AIDS victims, drew parallels between the plight of sufferers and her own struggle for democracy at the launch on World AIDS Day of a new "zero discrimination" campaign and a conference to be held in Australia in July.

"The fight against discrimination is an extension of our fight for freedom from fear," said the Myanmar opposition leader and democracy icon said on Sunday, using the title of a famous essay she wrote.

"My simple message as the global ambassador for zero discrimination is it all starts in the mind and in the heart. There must be less calculation and more warmth, more love, more affection, more compassion.

"We must have our differences and we must recognise them, but these differences should be an opportunity for us to be more complete human beings."

Suu Kyi and UNAIDS director Michael Sidibe unveiled a new campaign on Sunday targeting prejudice against HIV/AIDS sufferers, with the world's first Zero Discrimination Day to be held on March 1, 2014.

Sidibe said scientific breakthroughs and visionary leadership meant there was now an end in sight to "an epidemic that has wrought such staggering devastation around the world".

"But make no mistake, stigma, denial and complacency are still among us, putting us in danger of failing the next generation," he said.

The pair were speaking in Melbourne at the Australian launch of AIDS 2014, a major global health and policy conference to be held in the city in July with 14,000 delegates from almost 200 countries.

Sharon Lewin, an infectious diseases professor and co-chair of AIDS 2014, said there had been substantial progress in the global response to HIV.

A total of 25 countries -- many in sub-Saharan Africa -- reported a 50 percent reduction in new infections last year due to increased availability of treatments.

But Lewin said there were still at-risk populations not seeking help and places where new diagnoses were increasing, including in Australia where young men were having unprotected sex with men due to complacency about the disease.

"In the '80s to the mid-90s, HIV was an incredibly scary prospect -- no treatment, enormous stigma and discrimination, early death," Lewin told AFP of the disease which was first identified some 30 years ago.

"It's not as scary any more, but it's still a significant chronic illness that has a big impact on people's lives."

Last year, 1.6 million people died from AIDS-related causes, down from 1.8 million in 2011 and 2.3 million in 2005, according to the United Nations.

In its annual report on the state of the global pandemic released in September, UNAIDS said new HIV infections had plummeted by a third overall since 2001 and more than halved among children.

But Lewin said the world was at a crossroads with HIV.

"We have come so far and there have been so many successes," she said. "But still there are so many challenges, the biggest being that we know what works, but yet we still can't broadly implement it."

- AFP/al

Channel NewsAsia

Can North Korea follow Myanmar’s path away from military rule?

Kim Jong Un may regard the evolution of Burma’s Tatmadaw as a warning 


by Tom Farrell , December 2, 2013
Nearly two years after Kim Jong Un’s father’s death, the indicators are that he maintains a system that is oppressive as ever, but one undergoing a chameleonic color change: military greens segueing into Workers’ Party reds.

Under Kim Jong Il, North Korea had edged towards something akin to junta rule, like a living fossil of the 20th century Stalinist and Maoist models. The years 1994-2011 were characterized by the primacy of “Songun,” a.k.a. the “military-first policy.”

Throughout 2012-13, the power of the bloated Korean Peoples’ Army has been downgraded. The ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, for the first time in a generation, looks as if it might actually wield some influence. A pyramid remains in place with a hereditary emperor at the apex. Beneath him, the bricks are shifting position.

At the start of the year, the Korean Central News Agency reported on a January 28 meeting in Pyongyang where Kim stressed the need to increase the role of the WPK. The agency report quoted Kim as calling the gathering “a significant meeting which was convened at the behest of our (late) leader Kim Jong Il…an epochal turning point in increasing the party’s capability in every way as required by the new era of the Juche revolution by decisively enhancing the function and role of the party cells.”

This was an interesting development, since it was the first time North Korea’s leader had attended the cell conference, and the first to have taken place since October 2007. Party cells, one of the regime’s grassroots organizations, are the smallest of the WPK’s structures, with 5-30 members in each cell. And during each of the three conferences, Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung sent messages of support rather than attending.


A billboard for the 2013 South East Asian Games in the main street of Sittwe | Picture: Thomas Farrell

THE BURMA COMPARISON

What might replace a Songun-orientated North Korea? With more than a pinch of optimism, President Obama earlier this year hailed President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian administration, ruling Myanmar (Burma) since March 2011, as an example for North Korea to follow.

It is true that 30 years ago, the ruling Tatmadaw (Armed Forces) led by General Ne Win seemed bent on transforming Burma into a tropical cousin of North Korea. In both countries, private enterprise was throttled in the grip of classic command economies.

As early as January 1963, months after taking power, in a flurry of ideological rigour the Great Leader would have appreciated, Ne Win announced the “System of Correlation of Man and his Environment.” The manifesto emphasized international neutrality (like Kim, Ne Win was an enthusiast of the Non-Aligned Movement), Burman nationalism and the military.

Even then, however, the two regimes were marked by essential differences. Chief among them, then and now, is the absence of high profile North Korean opposition politicians.

Around 25,000 or so defectors who have made it out since 1953. Of these, only Hwang Jang-yop had enough seniority and experience of North Korean politics to potentially have been groomed as a leader in exile. Had Kim Jong Il’s regime disintegrated sometime in the 2000s, the former Chairman of the Standing Committee and Juche ideologue would probably have played some role in whatever replaced it, an unedifying prospect given his culpability in its abuses.

Moreover, 14 years had passed between the British departure in 1948 and Ne Win’s coup d’etat. Burmese democracy, although saddled with a ramshackle economy and challenged by multiple ethnic and communist insurgencies, was one of the most transparent in Asia. In the 1950s the country had one of the freest presses in Asia.

Contrast that with the northern half of the Korean peninsula, passed between the less-than-pluralist rule of Imperial Japan, the Soviet Union and Kim Il Sung within three years.

Emulating the March 2011 inaugural speech of Thein Sein, laying out a roadmap for reform, could prove very dangerous for Kim Jong Un.

“If Kim Jong Un is critical of where the society is, he is also critical of his father and his grandfather and that is dangerous,” said David Steinberg, professor at Georgetown University and the Korea Economic Institute of America.

“In that Confucian society, one doesn’t do that. Thein Sein’s March 2011 speech was a remarkable speech. It could never have happened in 50 years. Ne Win never made a speech like that.

“Emotionally in North Korea, where people have grown up under a one-family leadership for two generations, it’s much more difficult.”

And Thein Sein, a career Tatmadaw officer of modest origins, need not worry about puncturing a decades-old bubble of delusion and indoctrination; most Burmese have always had a fairly good take on the lifestyles of their regional neighbors.

Crucially, there is no “South Myanmar,” with a history of immeasurably greater economic success. If, like Kim Jong Un, Thein Sein faced such an entity and suddenly began suggesting it had lessons to impart, after being vilified as evil incarnate for decades, his government would lose most of its legitimacy at a stroke. When the junta began to denationalize Burma’s command economy after 1988, it did not have to set up carefully corralled islands of “capitalist” activity akin to Kaesong or Raijin-Songbong in North Korea.


A young girl on Rangoon’s streets looks after a private stall | Picture: Thomas Farrell

A NEW ERA

North Korea may well be entering a post-Songun phase of governance. But so far, there is little evidence that the rule of suited party bureaucrats is proving any gentler than that of medal bedecked generals.

Lilian Il Hwang, a program officer at the Seoul office of the Citizens Alliance for North Korean Human Rights says that the situation for defectors has changed somewhat:

“Most of the defectors in South Korea come from specific regions within North Korea, so that people in those specific regions are (more) aware because many more of their families are already in the South,” she said. “North Korea is still the most closed country in the world but it has certainly become less closed. The flow of information is going in and out both ways so I would say that it is not as insular as it was before.”

However, she adds that this situation has not gone unnoticed by the regime.

“We know that there is now an electrical fence and just much more tightened border control. And even within China, often they go through these periods where they decide to seriously crack down on the North Korean population in China. So they’ll do a huge round up and then they’ll be deported back to North Korea.”

The regimes in Pyongyang and Rangoon survived the seismic reconfiguring of global politics in the late 1980s. Pragmatism ensured that. The former has stuck (literally) to its guns. The latter has metamorphosed out of all recognition.

But even allowing for the differences, Kim Jong Un might do well to ponder the fate of Ne Win, who died under house arrest in December 2002, maneuvred out of power by the Tatmadaw he once commanded. Confucian mores might command strong respect in North Korea, but they are not inviolate: thus the dissolute behavior of his oldest brother Kim Jong Nam earned him the fate of despised prince-in-exile rather than heir apparent.

And Kim’s father may have survived a horrific famine in the 1990s, but like Ne Win, he was reminded, near the end of his life, that a hungry population is far more dangerous than a starving one.

Much as the North Korean state has cannibalized Confucianism (and even Christianity) in the construction of its ideology, so the Tatmadaw appropriated Buddhist teachings in order to buttress its authority. In his speeches, Ne Win often claimed that the “Burmese Road to Socialism” affirmed Buddhist interdictions against greed and usury. (If the rumor mills of Rangoon are to be believed, such piety sometimes had outlandish consequences: warned of a prophecy that he might be reincarnated as a dog, the Burmese dictator is said to have crawled up the steps of the city’s most sacred shrine on all fours with a slipper in his mouth!)

But when his superstitions started guiding policy planning, it proved to be his downfall. In September 1987, the kyat currency was reorganized exclusively in denominations of 45 and 90 because Ne Win considered the number nine lucky. Not lucky, of course, for thousands of ordinary citizens who saw their life savings rendered instantly worthless: the first protests by students and then monks began the same month.

The ”8888 Movement” begun on August 8, 1988 but was put down with maximum savagery over the ensuing weeks. Thousands – perhaps tens of thousands – of ordinary Burmese were slaughtered.

The Tatmadaw survived – indeed, worryingly, even today it retains a block of unelected seats in both houses of parliament. It then annulled the results of the 1990 election when the National League of Democracy won a landslide victory.

But Ne Win, who had resigned in July 1988, was yesterday’s man. In March 2002, aged 90, Ne Win and several family members were accused of plotting against the very junta he had put in place 40 years before. Placed under house arrest, he died that December, his death unaccompanied by either an official announcement or a state funeral.

It was not superstition, but the desire to emasculate an emerging middle class that guided some similarly malevolent numerology in North Korea two decades later. When on November 30, 2009, the party announced it would invalidate all money in circulation and issue new bills, the results were chaotic. And even if there was no mass uprising, the Kim regime felt sufficiently unnerved to perform a rare U-turn.

In February 2010 the DPRK premier Kim Yong Il issued an even rarer apology for policies enacted “without sufficient preparation” that caused “great pain to the people.”

In the interim there had been reports of scuffles with police when markets were forcibly closed down. Black market traders were shot dead and in Chongjin, a man was executed for burning his invalid won, a blasphemy because in doing so he incinerated the image of Kim Il Sung.

It was hardly the first rumbles of revolution. But the back-track on devaluation was indicative of a divine monarch realising that the love of his subjects was not eternally mandated.

SUBTLE MANEOUVERS

Three years on, the reassertion of the Party continues apace. This is evidenced by the appointment of Choe Ryong Hae (63) to the post of director of the General Political Bureau. Choe, a protégé of Kim’s uncle, Jang Son Taek, spent most of his career in the WPK, not the Army. Before the September revision of party rules, only the supreme ruler had the authority to declare a state of war: now the WPK’s Central Committee and National Defence Commission will liaise apropos of such a decision. And for the first time since 1974, a revision to the ten strictures of state ideology has placed primacy on the WPK’s authority.

Far from seeing an example to follow, Kim Jong Un may regard the evolution of Burma’s Tatmadaw as a warning. Pragmatism is a soldiery virtue. The fate of the once all-powerful Ne Win, an ally of his grandfather, is a reminder of this. In December 2002, former colleagues were warned to stay away from his hastily organized private funeral. In the event only around thirty people turned up.

Main picture: Eric Lafforgue

NK News

Myanmar’s remaining independence fighter dies at 91

Struggle over: Portraits of Ye Htut are displayed at his residence during his funeral Thursday in Yangon. Ye Htut, the last surviving member of the 'Thirty Comrades,' the legendary group that spearheaded Myanmar's independence struggle against British colonial rule, died in Yangon on Wednesday at age 91. | AP

AP
YANGON – Ye Htut, the last member of the “Thirty Comrades,” the group that spearheaded Myanmar’s struggle against British colonial rule, has died. He was 91.

Ye Htut died from health problems related to old age at a hospital in the main city of Yangon on Wednesday, family members said.

The Thirty Comrades were led by Gen. Aung San, father of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. During World War II, the men went to Japan for training to fight British colonizers in what was then known as Burma. Aung San later negotiated independence from Britain, but was assassinated before that occurred in 1948.

Ye Htut, who served in the Myanmar army until independence, went underground soon afterward, joining the armed struggle of the banned Burma Communist Party.

He laid down his weapons in 1963 to join the ruling party of then-dictator Gen. Ne Win, but was purged several years later in an inner-party struggle, according to his eldest son, Kyaw Kyaw.

Ye Htut was involved in the 1988 democracy movement.

Tin Oo, a former chief of staff and veteran of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, expressed his condolences, saying he had great respect for those who helped the country fight for independence.

“I am very sad to hear about the death of the last surviving member of the Thirty Comrades,” he said.

Ye Htut “served as a patron of the Patriotic Old Comrades league — a group formed by retired army leaders during the peak of the 1988 uprising. He shared his experience and had given us advice during the initial days,” Tin Oo said.

Ye Htut is survived by his two sons.

The Japan Times
 

DVB Multimedia Group

RFA Home

Asia - Voice of America

Follow by email

Most Reading

e859638055da3b665f41448d1c0534e9