Nobel laureate Suu Kyi launches Myanmar’s first mobile library

by The Hindu Business Line


Kowhmuu (Myanmar), July 27: 

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi launched Myanmar’s first mobile library Saturday to highlight her policy of spreading education in the country.

“Now, it’s only a bus with a room, but if our people use it correctly it may be great benefit for our country,” Suu Kyi said at a ceremony in Kowhmuu, 30 kilometres south-west of Yangon.

Myanmar has few libraries and its schools and universities have suffered from years of neglect and poor budgets. Suu Kyi has stressed the need to improve the education system stymied after five decades of military rule.

The 1991 Nobel peace laureate won a parliamentary seat in Kowhmuu in the 2012 by-election after nearly 15 years under house arrest.

The Daw Khin Kyi Foundation in cooperation with the Education Ministry, with funding from local and foreign donors, bought a vehicle stocked with 1,500 books to take education to the countryside.

“As the first such project in Myanmar, we may face many challenges, but the main thing is to draw the public’s attention to the need for reading,” said Than Thaw Kaung, manager of the project.

Myanmar needs new libraries and to train more librarians, he said.

The foundation is working with Beyond Access, Asia Foundation and National Library of Singapore to promote libraries and reading in Myanmar.

Will Myanmar’s real reformer please stand up?

by ROGER MITTON (The Manila Times)

In reform-bound Myanmar these days, many may see a quaint reversal of roles. An erstwhile autocrat is pushing national reform and harmony against tough odds, while an idolized democrat makes friends among the rich and infamous.

All those characters were in the news lately. President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi were joined in their usual headline-making by the country’s most notorious drug dealer, Law Sitt Han.

Daftly dubbed the Godfather of Heroin by the U.S. government, Law died earlier this month at his Yangon home.

It was there, at the turn of the millennium, that I met the irascible but genial old codger a day after I interviewed Suu Kyi. He was a relief, because he simply spoke his mind, whereas with Suu Kyi and Thein Sein, it is never clear whether their words reflect their true sentiments.

Still, while politicians rarely say what they think, what they do often gives them away.

Take Thein Sein. When I first met him up in northeastern Shan State many years ago, he said so few words that only a telepath could know what he was thinking. He appeared rather shy, mousey even, so it was a shock to learn that he was the military commander of that volatile region of ethnic strife, drug dealing and border incursions.

How he was appointed to that post remains perplexing, as does his later selection to head Myanmar’s then-military government, and two years later his election as president.

Still, we should be thankful it happened. And if proof is needed of that, consider his July 22 speech to the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House in London.

Thein Sein noted that his government had passed a new constitution, held elections, lifted media and internet censorship, and introduced laws to protect freedom of association and expression.

Had he voiced such intentions back in Shan State more than a decade ago, he would not only have been ridiculed; he would have been locked up.

Yet here we are, and Thein Sein’s amazing reforms have even included Suu Kyi, who has also surprised us, but in ways that have disturbed party acolytes and fawning Western diplomats.

It is not so much her intimacy with the former army dictators, but her embrace of the crony businessmen who kept the military in guns and roses for decades—rather as did Law Sitt Han and his son, Steven Law.

Aside from pocketing dollops of dosh from cronies like Kyaw Win and Zaw Zaw, and having the latter build a spiffy pink wall round her Inya Lake compound, Suu Kyi recently accepted free flights for life from Tay Za.

He is Myanmar’s most notorious crony, and three years ago he set up Asian Wings Airways to skirt sanctions imposed by the United States on his other domestic carrier, Air Bagan.

Suu Kyi has now become an instant platinum frequent flyer on Asian Wings, so she can take flights, along with two other people, for free.

One of Tay Za’s lackeys explained that it was done because they have “deep heartfelt respect, admiration and appreciation of everything Suu Kyi has done in her lifetime”.

Sure they do. They just forgot to mention it before Thein Sein became president. And while Suu Kyi was accepting yet more goodies from the sanctioned cronies, Thein Sein was promising more reforms and the release of all political prisoners by the end of the year.

He tacitly mocked her shamefully muted criticism of anti-Muslim pogroms by vowing at Chatham House that his government would follow “a zero-tolerance approach” to any renewed communal violence.

Indeed, he has already acted. Earlier this month, he unilaterally disbanded the Nasaka border security agency, which has been blamed for many of the atrocities against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State.

Said the International Crisis Group: “His removal of an agency created for oppressive purposes, and with an institutional culture of corruption and abuse, can only be a good thing.”

All these good things sound like an election platform, but Thein Sein said in Paris on Friday: “As of now, I have not prepared myself to run for the 2015 presidential election.”

Let us hope he reconsiders. Then the people of Myanmar could get to choose between a leader keen to advance reform and perhaps little else, and another who might just want his job and maybe little more.

Roger Mitton is a Southeast Asia regional consultant and a former senior correspondent for Asiaweek magazine and The Straits Times of Singapore.

Mine Next to Letpadaung Under Fire for Toxic Dust

Protesters march near the Letpadaung copper mine in Sarlingyi township, Sagaing on March 13, 2013.AFP

A China-backed copper mine operating alongside the controversial Letpadaung project in northern Myanmar has been accused of releasing toxic dust that is destroying farmland and leaving blisters on the skin of villagers nearby.

The Kyisintaung mine is part of the Chinese conglomerate–run Monywa Copper Project, which also operates the larger Letpadaung mine vehemently opposed by villagers who claim it causes environmental, social, and health problems in the area.

Just north of the Letpadaung mine, residents of five villages surrounding the Kyisintaung mine said this week that operations there have given off harmful mineral-laden dust over the past two months.

Villagers get blisters when they try to wash the dust off of their skin, and residents in one village, Htantaw Gyi, are suffering from respiratory problems from the dust hanging in the air, they said.

The dust is also harming fields and cattle pastures in Ywarthaya, Htantaw Gyi, Gonetaw, Dontaw, and Shew Pankhine villages, they said.

“The dust which has copper mixed in with it is destroying the betel leaves that we plant,” local resident Pho Zaw told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“We assume that the reaction between the water and the copper in the dust is what is destroying the leaves,” he said.

“Here we just have problems with our farmland, but people in Htantaw Gyi are having breathing problems because of the dust.”

Myanmar Yang Tse Copper Limited which runs Kyisintaung could not be reached for comment at the company’s Yangon or Monywa offices.

Expanding operations

Yang Tse is expanding operations at Kyisintaung—which has been  mined since the 1990s— including with new designs that will involve “higher levels of dust control” and are expected to “improve air quality,” according to its website.

Air quality at the Kyisintaung site “is good, with only localized emissions from the existing operations above international standards for particulates,” the website states.

Yang Tse is a subsidiary of Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper Limited, which runs the Letpadaung mine as a joint venture with Myanmar’s military-backed Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. (UMEHL).

Public anger

In an apparent bid to assuage public anger by giving the nation a share of the profits, officials announced Wednesday the contract for the Letpadaung mine has been revised to give the Myanmar government 51 percent of its revenues.

Under Wednesday’s revised agreement giving the Myanmar’s government a larger share of the profits from the project, Wanbao is now entitled to 30 percent of the revenue and UMEHL to 19 percent.

The new terms also stipulate that two percent of net profits from the project go toward corporate social responsibility with a focus on immediate communities.

Previously, after Wanbao took over the project from Canadian company Ivanhoe in 2010, the profits were split such that the Myanmar government received 16.8 percent, UMEHL 13.8 percent, and Wanbao 13.33 percent after deducting production costs of 56 percent.

Wanbao welcomed the deal as “a new dawn in the relationship between mining companies and their host countries,” according to China’s state-run Xinhua news agency.

Public uproar

The revision of the deal follows public uproar against the project sparked after a violent police crackdown in November last year that prompted a government inquiry.

Local residents in 26 villages in the area—separate villages from those affected by the Kyisintaung dust—had begun protests against the mine early last year, saying they had not received proper compensation for confiscated land and that they did not want pollution to destroy the area.

After protests escalated, in November police used phosphorus to disperse demonstrators at the mine in the harshest crackdown since the end of military rule.

A government commission set up after the crackdown and headed by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to look into the project recommended earlier this year that the project be allowed to continue despite concerns over its environmental impact and land-grabbing.

But local residents have kept up their protests and vowed to do so until the project is completely halted, with many of them refusing higher compensation offers recommended by the commission.

Rights campaigners have expressed concern at the continuing arrest of activists opposed to the mine.

Letpadaung is the largest of four deposits in the Monywa Copper Mine Project, which includes Kyisintaung, Sabetaung, and Sabetaung South.

Before large-scale mining began there in the 1990s, the area was one of the largest copper mine deposits in Southeast Asia.

Reported by Moe Thu Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

Thein Sein Orders Myanmar’s Second Major Cabinet Reshuffle

Thein Sein (C) gives a speech during a ceremony in Rangoon, June 2, 2013. AFP

Myanmar President Thein Sein has announced his second major cabinet reshuffle since taking power two years ago from the former military junta, reassigning four ministers, dropping two deputy ministers and naming scholars as among 10 new deputy minister appointments.

The announcement by the President’s Office, made late Thursday, marks the first significant shakeup since Thein Sein approved nine new cabinet posts in August last year.

Observers cautiously welcomed the changes, calling on the scholars appointed as deputy ministers to positions once held by the military particularly to speak out to make government policy more effective.

As part of the shakeup, former Minister of Rail Transportation Zeya Aung was reassigned as minister of energy, former Minister of Labor, Employment and Social Welfare Maung Myint as minister of industry, former Minister of Industry Aye Myint as minister of labor, employment and social welfare, and former Minister of Energy Than Htay as minister of rail transportation.

Two deputy ministers with the education and rail transportation ministries, Aye Kyu and Thura Thaung Lwin, were allowed to resign, the announcement said.

Of the 10 reshuffled deputy minister positions, five were reassigned and five newly appointed, among which were a handful of scholars from the private sector.

Additionally, former Police Chief Brigadier-General Kyaw Kyaw Tun was promoted to deputy home minister, while his vacant post was assigned to his deputy, Brigadier-General Zaw Win.

No details were given about why the reorganization had taken place.

‘Speak their minds’

While some observers have said that the shuffle mainly served to reward those close to the President’s Office with key ministerial positions, others say that the appointment of scholars as deputy ministers marks a significant step by Myanmar to include non-military personnel in decision-making roles.

Khin Maung Swe, Chairman of the opposition National Democratic Force party, said that in order to be effective leaders, the new deputy ministers must speak out about the subjects they are knowledgeable in to help produce progressive policy.

“The scholars who were appointed as ministers must not defer [to others] on issues related to their fields,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service Friday.

“If they don’t speak their minds in an effort to hold onto their seats, the situation will remain as before. We just want ministers who will speak out about what they think and who exhibit leadership qualities.”

Khin Maung Swe said that Myanmar must place more “democratically-minded” people into government before the country’s next national election in 2015 in order to ensure its new political system survives.

“We have heard some comments such as, ‘The government’s team is weak and indecisive’,” he said.

“I know that it won’t change completely, as the new government was born from the military government, but I think more strength is needed to build a better administration.”

‘Good listeners’ needed

Tin Myint, a former director of the ministry of energy, said that it is not enough to appoint scholars to high-level positions in the government—their superiors must also consider their ideas.

“The ministers should be good listeners,” Tin Myint said.

“The presidents can’t know everything. The president listens to proposals from his ministers and makes decisions based on that, so deputy ministers and ministers must speak out about what they think it is right.”

Kyaw Lin Oo, a commentator on Myanmar politics, said that having an effective group of ministers is essential to a government’s ability to implement successful policies.

He warned against appointing ministers who might compromise their position because of personal issues.

“A ministerial position is a political position. Although there are intelligent and skillful ministers in the ministries, there may be previously unforeseen difficulties for them,” he said.

“If policy is suffering from flaws and other weaknesses because of these difficulties, the relevant minister should be willing to take responsibility and resign.”

First reshuffle

In August, Thein Sein switched up nine of 33 cabinet posts, including for the key finance, information, industry, national planning and economic development portfolios.

The changes replaced Information Minister Kyaw Hsan, seen as a stumbling block to media reforms, with Labor and Social Welfare Minister Aung Kyi, the president's point-man in talks with pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Thein Sein also appointed Railway Minister Aung Min, who had played a leading role in ceasefire talks with ethnic rebels, as well as Finance Minister Hla Tun, Industry Minister Soe Thein and Minister of National Planning and Economic Development Tin Naing Thein, key figures in economic reforms, as ministers in the president's office.

The cabinet changes followed the appointment earlier in August of navy chief Nyan Tun, who has a reputation as a political moderate, to be one of the country’s two vice presidents, replacing a hardliner who resigned for health reasons.

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

Cambodian PM Hun Sen's Party Suffers Election Blow

Cambodia National Rescue Party deputy president Kem Sokha shows the indelible ink on his right finger after casting his vote in elections, July 28, 2013. RFA
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's dominant party suffered a major blow in national elections Sunday, claiming only a narrow margin of victory against the main opposition party galvanized by the return from self-exile of its leader Sam Rainsy.

The ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) won only 68 of the 123 seats in the National Assembly, the country's parliament, in a much reduced majority than achieved in the 2008 election, according to Khieu Kanharith, Minister of Information and party spokesman, citing initial unofficial results.

The CPP had held 90 seats in the 123-seat National Assembly before the elections, one of the closest fought in recent years and marred by allegations of widespread irregularities.

Sam Rainsy's Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which had 29 seats previously, nearly doubled its haul to 55 seats in this election, Khieu Kanharith said on his facebook page, quoting what he called "first unofficial results."

He confirmed with RFA's Khmer Service his facebook post, saying it was too soon to say whether the CPP would forge another coalition government with its ally Funcinpec party, which has two seats in the current assembly.

"We will see if they [the CNRP] accept the election results or not because so far they said they wouldn't accept the results,"  Khieu Kanharith said.

The National Election Committee (NEC), which oversees the elections, has not announced any official result for the assembly seats.
CNRP to wait and see

Sam Rainsy greeting the people on polling day, July 28, 2013.
CNRP spokesman Yem Ponhearith refused to accept or reject the CPP-announced result, saying the party would wait for the official NEC tally.
"We are verifying the CPP's result with the NEC's result," he told RFA..

Sam Rainsy had earlier claimed of a surprise CNRP victory but retracted it with a statement just thanking voters for their support.

Full NEC results could take days or even weeks after the polls, Cambodia's fifth since 1993, when the United Nations helped stage the country's first free elections since the 1975-79 genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge and a subsequent period of civil war and one-party rule.

The 60-year-old Hun Sen, in power for 28 years, has faced persistent accusations of trampling on human rights and silencing political dissent. He did not even bother to campaign in the elections, appearing confident his party will coast to victory.
In a province-by-province vote breakdown, the CNRP was ahead in several key CPP strongholds, including one of Hun Sen's homegrounds Kompong Cham where it received 137,994 votes to the ruling party's 102,486 votes. The CPP's popularity also dipped in provinces such as Kandal and Poey Veng.
In Phnom Penh, the CNRP garnered 381,620 votes to CPP's 250,974 votes, according to the NEC.

Amid the anxiety ahead of the official results, Sam Rainsy appealed for calm.
"We wish to thank all Cambodians irrespective of political affiliation for their effective participation in this election, for their contribution to make democracy flourish," he told a news conference in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.

He also appealed to his mostly young supporters not to cause any trouble: "We call for peace and reconciliation."

About 9.6 million people were registered to vote—more than one third of whom are aged under 30 and who do not remember the atrocities during the notorious Khmer Rouge era from 1975 to 1979, or Hun Sen’s role in ending it.
Sam Rainsy's application to vote and contest in the election was rejected despite a royal pardon for prison convictions widely believed to be politically motivated,
He had charged of poll irregularities and early Sunday toured polling stations to "collect more evidence" of potential voting fraud.

The CNRP, formed by the merger of two main opposition parties, had received a boost after Sam Rainsy was allowed to return home about two weeks ago after the royal pardon.
Local poll monitor the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) alleged that up to 1.25 million people who were eligible to cast ballots were not on voter lists and expressed concern that the ink used to mark voters could be easily washed off.

The NEC, which has been accused by rights groups of being a tool of the CPP, had told election observers and political party representatives that they would not be allowed to verify the official voter list at the polling station, Comfrel said on Saturday ahead of the vote.


A burning police car in Phnom Penh, July 28, 2013.
There was at least one violent protest, at a polling station in Phnom Penh where a crowd destroyed two police cars, military police spokesman Kheng Tito was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying, as anger erupted over names missing from the voter list.
Security was tightened after polling ended with military police blocking off a road leading to Hun Sen's home
and one going to the CPP and NEC offices, according to Reuters.

Reported by RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.

Ranong aids Myanmar children

Myanmar children in Thailand
Saowanee Nimpanpayungwong
The Nation

Programmes aim to combat ill effects of human trafficking

Ranong Province is speeding up programmes on life-quality development for children of Myanmar workers, in a bid to cut down on human trafficking crimes.

Bordered by Myanmar on both land and the Andaman Sea, Ranong has seen the issue of Myanmar immigrants - as well as Rohingya boat people - illegally crossing the border into the Kingdom for labouring jobs and a "better life." Many come with families.

As a result, Ranong has became a province most at risk from human trafficking - and is one among seven provinces selected for pilot integrated human-trafficking crackdown programmes.

Ranong deputy governor Viroj Saengsivarith said the province's population stands at 183,079, with some 50,000-80,000 Myanmar people as its "unregistered population," plus some 1,000 Thai-descended Myanmar nationals.

Most Myanmar immigrants work in the fishery industry or as general workers. The human trafficking situation here is still relatively slight with some cases of forced labour and prostitution. However, the province is at a high risk for such crimes, and efforts to tackle human trafficking are receiving co-operation from all agencies and from Myanmar.

"Myanmar people enter Thailand using a border pass that allows a 14-day stay - or a temporary border pass that allows a seven-day stay. Some hide in the border areas when their days are up and wait for Thailand, suffering from a severe labour shortage, to allow them to stay and work longer in the Kingdom.

The alien workers issue has also affected the Thai Public Health System with medical expenses of around Bt1,900 per head per year. Since Thailand hasn't been prepared to carry such a burden, the medical service quality is being weighed down.

"Myanmar workers in Thailand also create a workers' network linked to Thai and Myanmar labour agents, so human trafficking problems exist but aren't so severe," Wiroj said.

Another issue concerns Myanmar workers' children - including about 2,000 pre-schoolers - as they arrive with families now living in 42 communities there. After Thailand signed the anti-human trafficking memorandum of understanding, all public or private agencies, from Thailand and Myanmar, promoted the importance of education for these children.

Ranong primary education zone deputy head Prarom Nakbumrung said the Learning Centre for Quality of Life Development at the Thai-Myanmar Border functions as a school for Myanmar children and there were 13 such centres covering 3,000-4,000 pupils.

The centres concentrate on providing Thai language, English language, Maths and Social Studies - while also instilling values such as gratitude to Thailand's national institutions, religion and monarchy and the Thai lifestyle. Thai public health officials also take care of the pupils.

At the nine-year-old centre visited by The Nation, there were 678 pupils learning from Thai and Myanmar teachers. The education was provided from pre-school up to the seventh-year primary class as according to the Myanmar education system.

Prarom said if Myanmar children weren't educated, they could become victims of exploiters, leading to social problems. "We can't reject Myanmar workers, as Thais won't do hard work in fisheries, so we need to prepare an education and life quality development for these children too," he added.

Prarom said the Office of Basic Education Commission had a plan to allow the exchange of education transcripts so Myanmar children who'd completed a Myanmar basic education could study at Thai universities. These children, who'd be able to speak Thai, English and Myanmar languages, would have better chances in life.

Thai language teacher Paveena Pitakpiyawan said the centre's Thai classes had been taught since kindergarten, based on the non-formal education curriculum. "When recruiting new students, we arrange exams such as Thai language tests and Myanmar language tests to check their academic ability to determine which class to be in," she explained. The classes emphasised love, unity and patriotism for Thailand, while the Myanmar history classes would focus more on historic tales, she said.

A Myanmar student, identified only as Hawamon, said she felt comfortable studying at the centre where she could learn about discipline and how to live life, because if Myanmar children didn't study they would be scolded by others and that made her feel uneasy. "Staying in Thailand, I want to be a good girl to show Thai people that Myanmar children can be good like Thais too," she said.

Hawamon said many Myanmar children hadn't received schooling as she had, because their families were so poor the kids had to work. She said she believed that if Thais helped provide the education opportunities for them, their quality of life would improve.

With Myanmar Economy On The Rise, Indian Companies Want To Wrest Business Away From Dominant Chinese Rivals

Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi (L) walks with Executive Chairman of Infosys Kris Gopalakrishnan in the Electronic City area of Bangalore, November 17, 2012. Suu Kyi urged India on Wednesday to stand by Myanmar on its journey to democracy, on her first trip to Myanmar's neighbour since it dropped its support for her democracy movement two decades ago in favour of the ruling junta. REUTERS/Stringer
By Sophie Song (International Business Times)

Myanmar, formerly one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia but now termed the region’s “next economic frontier” by the International Monetary Fund, is also the newest battleground for Indian companies seeking to wrest business away from Chinese firms, which remain the biggest investor in Myanmar, even as western companies rush to the country.

Export-Import Bank of India (Exim), the state-controlled trade financing institution, has agreed to invest $800 million in Myanmar, part of which will be used to upgrade the Yangon-Mandalay railway and a plant for Tata Motors Limited (NYSE:TTM) to assemble vehicles in the country, said David Rasquinha, the executive director of the bank, according to Bloomberg.

Chinese companies have previously invested more than $14.19 billion in its neighboring country.

The competition is somewhat uneven for Exim, as China Development Bank Corp., which has a loan book more than three times the size of the World Bank, and the Export-Import Bank of China, offer cheap loans to snare business. The Indian bank is planning to sign credit agreements of as much as $500 million by the next month, to participate in an economy that the IMF predicts will expand 7 percent over the next five years.

“We shouldn’t get pessimistic because competition is there,” Rasquinha said in an interview in Mumbai. “We should be seeing the size of the pie and fighting smart.”

Thus far, India has made a single $2.5 billion investment by Oil & Natural Gas Corporation Limited (NSE:ONGC).

China Development Bank signed a $2.4 billion loan agreement with Myanmar’s Foreign Investment Bank in 2010, according to the Myanmar Times, to help fund a natural gas pipeline between the two countries. In May 2011, the bank agreed to provide Myanmar’s Ministry of Taxation and Finance with a 540 million euro ($718 million) line of credit during a meeting between Myanmar President Thein Sein and former Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Exim, which has been active in lending to Africa and helped boost India’s trade with African countries, is hoping to replicate some of its success in Myanmar. The bank if trying to “excite” Indian companies to conduct business in Myanmar, Rasquinha said.

Myanmar needs $650 billion in investment by 2030 to support the 8 percent GDP growth potential forecasted by McKinsey Global Institute, the research unit of McKinsey & Co. Companies wanting to do business in Myanmar, which has been ruled by a military regime until 2011, will have to adjust to the pace of the country’s opening, corruption, and the lack of infrastructure.

The Southeast Asian country, which borders both India and China, is ranked No. 172 of 176 in Transparency International’s 2012 corruption perception index.

Myanmar’s liberalization may reduce its dependence on China, according to Olivia Boyd, a Beijing-based energy analyst at IHS Global Insight. China has been a long-time supporter of the country’s junta government, and was the only major foreign investor, benefitting from its close ties with Myanmar’s leaders. Now, however, the local population is protesting against certain Chinese companies for unfair contracts, environmental damages and their relationship with the junta.

“Myanmar’s dependence on China is lessening,” Boyd said. “Chinese companies wield less bargaining power, meaning that Chinese companies may face further contract revision of this sort in the future.”

A contract with Chinese Wanbao Mining Co.’s Latpadaung copper mine was revised recently, giving Myanmar’s current government a large share of the mine’s revenue.

Indian companies may be able to tap part of the business if they take a long-term view, said Rasquinha, according to Bloomberg.

“The pie is so big that there’s room for all of us,” he said. “China has large large amounts of money available and can lend at very low rates, but they can’t finance every single project.”

Myanmar is new battleground for business

Myanmar is one of the world's last remaining untapped telecom markets. - PHOTO: AFP
Indian companies seek to wrest business from Chinese firms in the world's 'next economic frontier'

Mumbai (Business Times (subscription)

MYANMAR, called Asia's "next economic frontier" by the International Monetary Fund, is the new battleground for Indian companies seeking to wrest business from Chinese firms.

Export-Import Bank of India, the state-controlled trade financing institution, has pledged US$800 million in Myanmar, which includes funds to upgrade the Yangon-Mandalay railway and a plant for Tata Motors to assemble vehicles in the South-east Asian nation, Executive director david Rasquinha said. China, which has beaten Indian companies in the race to invest in energy assets from Kazakhstan to Venezuela, has agreed to lend more than US$2.4 billion in Myanmar.

Exim Bank of India faces an uneven contest as China Development Bank, which has a loan book more than three times the size of the World Bank, and the Export-Import Bank of China offer cheap loans to snare business. The Indian lender plans to sign credit agreements of as much as US$500 million by next month to participate in an economy that the IMF forecasts will expand 7 per cent over the next five years.

"We shouldn't get pessimistic because competition is there," Mr Rasquinha said. "We should be seeing the size of the pie and fighting smart."

State-run Chinese companies have spent US$19.5 billion this year acquiring energy and resources assets overseas versus India's single US$2.5 billion investment by Oil & Natural Gas Corp.

Exim Bank of India has been focusing on Africa. About 60 per cent of the Indian lender's lines of credit are for countries in the continent, Mr Rasquinha said. It has so far signed 172 lines of credit with commitments of about US$10.5 billion, covering 75 nations, he said. That compares with a US$219 billion loan book at Exim Bank of China.The Indian lender expects to mirror some of its African success in Myanmar. Exim Bank is trying to "excite" Indian companies to conduct business in Myanmar, Mr Rasquinha said.

The lender charges a floating 50 basis point over the London interbank offered rate to a fixed 2 per cent on overseas lines of credit, Mr Rasquinha said.

Bharti Airtel, India's biggest mobile carrier, was among companies that had bid for a telecom licence in Myanmar, the nation's selection committee said on its website in April.

Norway's Telenor ASA and Ooredoo QSC of Qatar won licences to expand telecommunications in Myanmar, one of the world's last remaining untapped markets where only about one in 10 people has a mobile phone.Myanmar needs US$650 billion of investments by 2030 to support an 8 per cent gross domestic product growth potential, according to McKinsey Global Institute, the research unit of McKinsey & Co.

Myanmar's liberalisation may reduce the nation's traditional dependence on China, according to Olivia Boyd, a Beijing-based energy analyst at IHS Global Insight.

"Myanmar's dependence on China is lessening," Ms Boyd said. "Chinese companies now wield less bargaining power, meaning they may face further contract revision of this sort in the future." Bloomberg

Myanmar opens doors to Big Oil, but investment pitfalls still lurk

After decades, Myanmar's rich energy reserves are now available to foreign companies. But sectarian violence and cronyism may still give some companies pause.

Vehicles drive along a road near electricity posts in Thailand's Nonthaburi province April 2. Myanmar has proven natural gas reserves of 10 trillion cubic feet, and ranks 36th among natural gas producers worldwide – with most of it going to neighboring Thailand ­­– according to the United States Energy Information Administration. Chaiwat Subprasom/Reuters/File

By Joseph J. Schatz, Correspondent (Christian Science Monitor)

Yangon, Myanmar

It was only a few years ago that oil giants Chevron and Total were accused of propping up Myanmar’s military junta by helping it export oil and gas, earning them the ire of human rights groups. Yet with decades of political isolation over – and most Western sanctions gone or waning – this country of 60 million is now safe for Big Oil.

That’s why top officials from top energy companies have been quietly beating a path to the capital city of Naypyidaw over the past few months.

They’re looking for more details on 30 untouched offshore oil and natural gas drilling sites that the government is now opening up to foreign exploration. Earlier this month the government shortlisted more than 60 companies, including some of the biggest players – Shell, ExxonMobil, and ConacoPhilips – to make final bids, and the winners will be announced later this year.

That there is a race at all marks a stark turnaround: For decades after World War II, Myanmar's rich reserves of oil and natural gas were off limits for foreign companies. More recently, sanctions kept most Western companies out.

But plenty of tricky questions remain – both for the companies and for Myanmar’s people. Violence against the Muslim Rohingya diaspora in western Rakhine state – near where much of the fuel is located – may give some companies pause. And the country’s oil and gas agency is plagued with mismanagement and cronyism.

Plus, Myanmar’s government is under increasing pressure at home to address its own considerable energy shortages – and not simply export away its oil and gas riches as it did in the past.
Pragmatic money

Satya Ramamurthy, of consulting group KPMG International, says the new government seems to be trying to chart a “pragmatic” course and “apply an approach which takes into consideration the country’s current situation,” while recognizing that foreign oil and gas companies want to make money, and have the potential to be lucrative for Myanmar (also known as Burma).

Myanmar is no stranger to the global energy market. Indeed, Scottish oilmen started exporting crude from this corner of southeast Asia in the late 1800s, when it was controlled by Queen Victoria.

Myanmar has proven natural gas reserves of 10 trillion cubic feet, and ranks 36th among natural gas producers worldwide – with most of it going to neighboring Thailand ­­– according to the United States Energy Information Administration. The country has proven petroleum reserves of 50 million barrels.

The companies that win the rights to operate the oil and natural gas sites will be required to enter into a production-sharing agreement with the state-run Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise. The agency’s dismal reputation helped earn the government a dead-last ranking in “resource governance” by the Revenue Watch Initiative, a New York-based non-profit watchdog group, in a May report.
Transparency standard?

The Myanmar government has promised to join the Norway-based Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, an international transparency standard that many countries have pledged to abide by. And the US State Department has promised to help Myanmar modernize the agency.

Still, the Shwe Gas Movement, a coalition of activists who have vocally opposed a recently-completed Chinese-built pipeline across Myanmar, warned investors in a report last week that Myanmar’s laws won’t protect local communities, and that until they are reformed, foreign investment in energy “should be put to a halt.”

Mr. Ramamurthy of KPMG says that companies weighing whether they can be confident their investments will be protected, environmental considerations and the potential displacement of people. “I think that does weigh on the minds of investors,” he said during a visit to Naypyidaw.

And what it means for one of the biggest economic concerns facing Myanmar – jobs – remains unclear. Myanmar’s opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, noted at a June press conference that “the extractive industry does not create many jobs.”

Police question two suspects in connection with explosion in Mandalay


Two individuals are being questioned by authorities for their possible connection with a bomb that exploded near an event where the Islamophobic monk Wirathu was speaking in Mandalay on Sunday, according to local police.

Four people were left with non-life threatening injuries after the explosion went off near a Dhamma lecture led by the ultra-nationalist Buddhist monk at Maha Aungmyay’s Yadana Bhumi ward.

The monk, who spearheads the anti-Muslim 969 movement, was quick to blame Islamic extremist for the attack.

“Ordinary Muslims wouldn’t have done this,” said Wirathu in a report published by the AP on Monday.

However, Burma’s police force has made no indication that Islamic extremists were behind the attack.

In July, Wirathu was featured on the cover of Time magazine along with the headline: “The Face of Buddhist Terror”. Burmese authorities later banned the issue, while Wirathu went on to blame Arabs for the publication’s coverage of radical Buddhist elements in Asia.

“Before I had heard [rumours] of the Arab world dominating the global media,” Wirathu told DVB during an interview in June.

“But this time, I’ve seen it for myself.”

Wirathu did not sustain any injuries following Sunday’s explosion.

Afghan woman, Filipino doctor win RM Awards

Associated Press

MANILA, Philippines—Afghanistan’s first and only female governor and a humanitarian worker from Burma’s (Myanmar) Kachin minority are among this year’s recipients of the Ramon Magsaysay Awards, often regarded as Asia’s version of the Nobel Prize.

The Manila-based Ramon Magsaysay Awards Foundation announced Wednesday that it had selected three individuals and two organizations as this year’s awardees, including a Filipino doctor, an independent commission eradicating corruption in Indonesia and a civil society organization in Nepal created and run by human trafficking victims.

The awards, named after President Ramon Magsaysay who died in a 1957 plane crash, honor people and groups who change their societies for the better.

Habiba Sarabi, 57, was chosen for helping build a functioning local government and pushing for education and women’s rights in Afghanistan’s Bamyan province despite working in a violent and impoverished environment in which discrimination is pervasive, the foundation said. Public education and the ratio of female students have increased in her province, where more women are taking up careers that were forbidden under the 1996-2001 Taliban regime.

“In the face of widespread hostilities toward women assuming public roles, her courage and determination are outstanding,” the foundation said of Sarabi, a member of an ethnic and religious minority in Afghanistan.

Lahpai Seng Raw, a 64-year-old widow, was selected for helping rehabilitate damaged communities in Burma amid ethnic and armed conflicts. The emergency relief, healthcare and sanitation projects of the civil society group that she helped found in 1997 in then-military-ruled Burma has today reached over 600,000 people across the country.

Another awardee, Ernesto Domingo, a 76-year-old physician of the University of the Philippines-Manila, has dedicated his career to pushing for the poor’s access to health services, and for groundbreaking and successful advocacy of neonatal hepatitis vaccination that has saved millions of lives in the Philippines, the foundation said.

Also being honored is Nepal’s Shakti Samuha, or Power Group, the world’s first nongovernment organization created and run by human trafficking victims. The group’s founders are being recognized for working to root out human trafficking and transforming their lives to serve other trafficking survivors. The group has established a halfway home that provides shelter and assistance to survivors and emergency shelters for women and girls at risk of trafficking.

Indonesia’s Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi, or Corruption Eradication Commission, won for its successful campaign to prosecute erring officials, recovering more than $80 million in assets, and undertaking civil service reforms and citizen anticorruption education.

Each awardee will receive a certificate, a medal and a cash prize.

Locals upset after upper house speaker snatches historic notebook


Residents in central Burma’s Yaynanchaung are upset with the parliament’s upper house speaker Khin Aung Myint after he commandeered a notebook containing General Aung San’s original handwriting that was being kept at a local high school.

Mu Mu Htun, headmistress of Magwe division’s Yaynanchaung High School-1, said Khin Aung Myint took the book during his recent visit to the town on Martyrs’ Day and said he would preserve it.

“We understand he wishes to preserve the notebook and keep it at the national museum where the public will have wider access, but we don’t want to give it up that easily – we feel the loss,” said Mu Mu Htun.

According to the school’s secretary Kyaw San Oo, the town’s residents are preparing to lobby Aung San Suu Kyi with the help of Ashin Sandra Dika, a revered Buddhist monk and Yaynanchaung native, to help retrieve the book.

“We will try to ask for the notebook back through Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Ashin Sandra Dika – hopefully it will go well and even if it doesn’t, we will still have to try. This book is precious to the town’s residents,” said Kyaw San Oo.

Ashin Sandra Dika, who was a student at the school that housed the artifact, said the book was priceless to the town and taking it away could lead to public protests.

“Residents have been seriously thinking about staging public protests to ask for the book back and I, as a former student at the school who regards general Aung San as our forefather, also wish to have it with us,” said Ashin Sandra.

“We wouldn’t give it up for even one billion kyat.”

Locals said they were prepared to let the government have the book, but they said would prefer to hand it over at an official ceremony.

The upper house speaker was unavailable for comment.

The notebook belonged to Burma’s famed independence leader when he attended a Pali language course at Rangoon University in 1933 and contains notes written in English by hand. He later gave it as a gift to a friend, who passed it on to Yaynanchaung-based journalist to donate to an appropriate school in the town. Aung San had himself previously attended high school in Yaynanchaung.

Yaynanchaung High School-1 was planning to exhibit the notebook during the school’s 100th year anniversary celebrations in January 2015.

Armed Mon group calls on army to return abducted members


The New Mon State Party (NSMP) is calling on the government to release two of its members who were captured by the Burmese military after clashes erupted in southern Burma’s Tenasserim division last week.

According to the NMSP, the group’s members Nai Aung Htun and his wife Ma Cho were abducted by troops from the Burmese army’s 581st Light Infantry Battalion in Tenasserim’s Bokpyin township following an unprovoked attack targeting the rebel’s outpost in Thumingalan village on 16 July.

Two NMSP members and one Burmese solider were reportedly killed during the skirmish.

Nai Ong Seik Chan, a lieutenant colonel in the NMSP, said the Burmese military has admitted to mistakenly attacking their outpost after troops assumed that the position belonged to another Mon armed group, the Hanthawaddy Restoration Party.

Despite the admission, the government has yet to respond to the NMSP’s request to release its members.

“On the evening of 17 July, we contacted the [army] but so far there has been no response, but we are trying to reach out to the regional military command through our liaison office to clear up the misunderstanding,” said Nai Ong Seik Chan, adding that the government troops were still holding positions in the area surrounding their outpost.

The NMSP, which signed a truce with Naypyidaw in February 2012, also urged the government to refrain from attacking ceasefire groups or arresting their members.

During a speech in London last week, President Thein Sein described Burma’s ongoing civil wars as complex, but insisted that his government aimed to a declare a country-wide ceasefire soon.

“Very possibly, over the coming weeks, we will have a nation-wide ceasefire and the guns will go silent everywhere in Myanmar (Burma) for the very first time in over sixty years,” said Thein Sein.

However, the president noted that such a deal would “only [be] the first step towards the just and lasting peace” in Burma.

Since Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government came into power in 2011, Naypyidaw has succeeded in inking ceasefire agreements with ten of the country’s eleven major armed groups.

Myanmar's Weakening Kyat (MMK) And Worsening Trade Deficit Are Necessary For The Country's Growth

Workers count Myanmar's kyat banknotes at the office of a local bank in Yangon. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

By Sophie Song - International Business Times

The opening of Myanmar’s economy along with its floating currency and growing demand for imports has led to a worsening trade deficit and significant weakening of the Myanmar kyat (MMK) against the dollar. Investors have no reason to worry, however, as these are necessary growing pains for the rapidly emerging economy, according to the analysts at Standard Chartered Bank.

On April 2, 2012, Myanmar’s reform government implemented a managed float for the MMK, in place of the “overvalued” peg. The new system is similar to China’s, according to a research note published by Standard Chartered on Monday.

This is a momentous policy shift, considering before the float, the MMK fluctuated very little, usually around 6.40 to 6.45 against the U.S. dollar. In addition, Myanmar had several unofficial exchange rates in the informal market, where the exchange rate could be as high as 830 against the dollar. The MMK was highly overvalued -- 19 percent in the year ending March 2011, according to a study by the IMF, and 40 percent in the year ending March 2012.

The overvalued currency was not supportive of the country’s export competitiveness, or of foreign direct investment (FDI). The decision to switch to a unified, managed float system came against this backdrop, which will also serve to lay the groundwork for establishing a monetary policy framework for the newly opened country, according to Standard Chartered.

Since the float, as international investors look to Myanmar with interest, the depreciation of the MMK against the dollar has received some attention. At the end of 2012, dollar to MMK exchange rate was at 87. By July, the MMK has depreciated by about 14 percent.

The depreciation should not cause concern, according to Standard Chartered, and is merely part of the growing pains Myanmar must endure as its financial markets mature.

In addition to the MMK depreciation, Myanmar’s imports are growing faster than its exports of gas, gems and agricultural products. The IMF said that the country’s trade deficit is likely to widen to 4 percent of its GDP this year.

This too is just a sign of Myanmar’s economic growth, according to Standard Chartered, as the country builds its production capacity.

Imports of machinery and transport equipment recorded a 67 percent year-on-year increase in the first quarter, according to Myanmar customs department, and Standard Chartered expects to see continued strong demand for imports of heavy machinery, construction equipment, infrastructure materials and refined fuel for investment purposes.

Exports-wise, the country will continue to rely on its traditional industries of natural gas, minerals, agricultural/aquacultural products and textiles for a few more years, but the lifting of Western sanctions and increasing FDI should lead to a widening variety of exports soon. Tourism is another flourishing industry that should bring in foreign currencies.

While the widening current account deficit weakens the MMK in the short term, foreign investment, development aid and remittances should more than support the balance of payments and the MMK. In the long-term, however, exports receipts are expected to rise, supported by new gas fields and rising global trade. These receipts will help offset growing demand for imports and balance the MMK, according to Standard Chartered.

Myanmar begins new round of political-prisoner releases

Newly released political prisoner Win Hla leaves Insein Prison in Myanmar on Tuesday after receiving amnesty from President Thein Sein. (Khin Maung Win / Associated Press / July 23, 2013)

By Mark Magnier - July 23, 2013,

Los Angeles Times

NEW DELHI – Myanmar started releasing approximately 70 political prisoners Tuesday, days after President Thein Sein promised during a European tour to free all remaining prisoners of conscience by the end of the year.

Civic society groups countered that Tuesday’s releases, along with earlier waves, have been done largely for public relations and don’t reflect substantive changes in the country’s human-rights or rule-of-law practices. Furthermore, critics say, the government continues to arrest whistle-blowers fighting corruption along with farmers and activists resisting illegal seizures and the environmental degradation of their land.

“We welcome the release,” said Bo Kyi, joint secretary of the Thailand-based Assistance Assn. for Political Prisoners in Myanmar, an activist group. “But we’re concerned that they continue to arrest people.”

A further concern is that many of the repressive laws that landed prisoners in jail to begin with, including some who received decades-long sentences, remain largely in place, with limited progress so far on reforming broadly worded statutes.

“There’s a lot of rhetoric, but not much progress,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division. “People are still being detained under laws on the book for quite some time. They need to be taken off the books.”

Authorities in Myanmar, also known as Burma, have been keen to shed a reputation built up over decades for routinely violating human rights, analysts said, and see prisoner releases as a way to ease U.S. and European criticism and open the door to much-needed loans and business deals.

The number of remaining political prisoners in Myanmar is a matter of some dispute, given differences in what constitutes a political prisoner and poor record-keeping in the nation’s network of 42 prisons and 109 labor camps.

Bo Kyi said up to 200 prisoners remain in prison, some sentenced and others still awaiting a verdict. Other groups placed the total at around 80 after Tuesday’s release, down from an estimated 2,100 three years ago.

The military junta, which ruled the country with an iron grip for decades, long argued that Myanmar had no political prisoners, only common criminals. Thein Sein’s recent tour to London and Paris was aimed at bolstering the country’s flagging reputation after several outbreaks of communal violence that frequently involved attacks by the Buddhist majority on members of Muslim minority communities.

In a speech last week in London, the president vowed an end to “prisoners of conscience” by the end of the year, which he termed an essential step in the country’s transition to democracy.

Since the nominal end of a half century of military rule in 2011, Thein Sein’s administration has freed hundreds of prisoners, eased media restrictions, allowed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to run successfully for parliament and ended a ban on campaigning by her National League for Democracy party.

These reforms have prompted the European Union to scrap most of its economic and trade sanctions against Myanmar, except for an embargo on weapons sales, and to extend preferential trade terms to the Southeast Asian nation. Washington has also lifted most sanctions, with many American and other foreign companies keen to enter the resource-rich nation, which they see as a frontier market with approximately 60 million future customers.

But the military still has inordinate influence in the country. Many lawmakers are former generals or ex-junta officials, while Myanmar’s controversial constitution guarantees that 25% of all parliamentary seats are held by the military and effectively bars the hugely popular Suu Kyi from becoming president.

Bodh Gaya 'bomber' caught on CCTV cameras could be of Assamese origin

Deeptiman Tiwary, TNN | Jul 22, 2013,

NEW DELHI: Even though Indian Mujahideen (IM) and its Bihar module have been put under scanner in connection with the Bodh Gaya blasts, investigations indicate that the suspected bomber caught on CCTV cameras may be of Assamese origin.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA), which is investigating the July 7 terror attacks at the Buddhist shrine, has got some clues that point in the direction of the north-east state. "Although there is a suspicion on a module from Bihar being involved, there are indications that the bomber could be Assamese. Witnesses, who saw him, have told us so. However, investigations are still on and the bomber could turn out to be from anywhere, including Bihar," said an NIA officer.

The agency had last week released two sketches of the suspected bomber recreated from CCTV footages and eyewitness accounts.

Significantly, the Rakhine Buddhist-Rohingiya Muslim confrontation of last year, which has been the trigger for a larger Buddhist-Muslim confrontation in several parts of Asia, had coincided with Bodo-Muslim confrontation in lower Assam.

Intelligence agencies had then expressed fear Rohingya refugees could add another insurgency to an already volatile mix of Assam. It was also said that the outflow of Rohingya refugees could lead to stronger contacts between Myanmar Muslims and regional Islamist militants. Such militants could recruit disaffected Rohingyas to their own cause.

Investigations have also indicated that though bombers placed 13 bombs in and around the Mahabodhi Temple complex, the intention was not mass casualty but to send a message by causing damage to the temple. "The bomber wanted to blow up the main Buddha statue inside the temple, but could not go there as the prayers had already started. He has spent a good 10 minutes trying to enter the main temple and plant the bomb. This has also been corroborated by eyewitness accounts," said the officer.

Timers used in Bodh Gaya blasts made in Gujarat, finds probe

New Delhi: The timers used to trigger explosions in Bodh Gaya were bought from a shop in Guwahati and were manufactured in Gujarat, investigators have found.

Sources said sleuths of the National Investigation Agency, which is probing the July 7 blasts in one of the most sacred Buddhist sites, have found that clocks attached with the unexploded bombs were manufactured in a plant in Rajkot, Gujarat.

The entire lot of the clocks was sent to Guwahati and a few of the clocks were bought from a shop there by a buyer, they said.

The sources, however, said involvement of local hands cannot be ignored as the cylinders tied with the bombs were most probably procured locally in Bihar.

Investigators got enough indications that people with mongoloid features could be involved in carrying out the explosions, the sources said, hinting that involvement of Myanmar's Rohingiya Muslims cannot be ruled out.

There were reports that the multiple blasts were reaction to the alleged violence against minorities in Myanmar's Rakhine province.

Two monks were injured following the early morning explosions of 10 bombs in Bodhgaya. Three other bombs were found unexploded.

The temple and the Bodhi Tree, under which Lord Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment, did not suffer any damage in the blasts which shook the holy town frequented by Buddhist pilgrims from Sri Lanka, Myanmar, China, Japan and the whole of southeast Asia.


Chinese senior military official begins visit to Myanmar

Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission of China Fan Changlong (C) arrives at the Yangon International Airport in Yangon, Myanmar, July 22, 2013. Fan Changlong arrived here Monday for an official visit to Myanmar as part of his three-country tour to Kazakhstan, Myanmar and Thailand. (Xinhua/U Aung)

YANGON, July 22 (Xinhua) -- Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission of China Fan Changlong arrived here Monday for an official visit to Myanmar as part of his three-country tour to Kazakhstan, Myanmar and Thailand.

In a statement released on arrival at the Yangon International Airport, Fan said his visit is to further consolidate China- Myanmar Comprehensive Strategic Cooperation Partnership, increase understanding, expand common view, deepen cooperation and push forward the development of the friendly cooperative ties between the two countries and the two armed forces and make joint efforts to maintain the regional peace and stability.

For a long period, peoples of China and Myanmar as well as the two armed forces extended mutual help, nurturing deep "paukphaw" ( fraternal) friendship, he said, adding that in the new historical era, further enhancement of practical cooperation in respective sectors between the two countries and between the two armed forces not only conform to the fundamental interest of the two peoples but also contribute to the maintenance of regional peace and stability and even the world's.

He wishes Myanmar gain new development in defense and armed force building.

Fan is expected to meet Myanmar leadership and Commander-in- Chief of Myanmar Defense Services Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing in the Myanmar capital of Nay Pyi Taw on Tuesday.

Blast at radical Myanmar monk event injures 5

YANGON, Yangon division (AFP) –  A small blast near an event hosted by a radical Myanmar monk who stands accused of inflaming Buddhist-Muslim tensions has left five people injured in Mandalay, police said Monday.
Fox News
"The scene was about 100 yards (90 metres) away from the preaching event," said an officer from police headquarters in the capital Naypyidaw who asked not to be named.

Police said five people -- a Buddhist child novice monk, three women and one man -- were slightly injured in the blast, which occurred in a residential area of Myanmar's second largest city on Sunday evening.

"We do not know the cause of the blast yet and are still investigating. But we think it could be from a homemade device," the officer told AFP.

He added that a vehicle where the blast was thought to have originated was slightly damaged.

The cleric, Wirathu, confirmed the incident and blamed "the minority" linked to an article in Time magazine, which highlighted his anti-Muslim sermons as a key factor in inciting a wave of deadly religious violence this year.

Attacks against Muslims -- who make up an estimated four percent of Myanmar's population -- have exposed deep fractures in the Buddhist-majority nation and cast a shadow over its emergence from army rule.

Myanmar in June banned the controversial Time magazine cover story on Buddhist-Muslim unrest, which featured a picture of Wirathu and the caption 'The Face of Buddhist Terror'.

The article, one of a host of stories by the international media that have caused consternation in Myanmar, was met with anger on social media sites and its author, Time East Asia Correspondent Hannah Beech, has been singled out for personal criticism.

In an article on his Facebook page entitled "This is the beginning of the cultural acts of the minority loved by Hannah Beech", Wirathu said the blast had injured audience members.

The monk has been the focus of scrutiny after emerging at the forefront of a nationalistic group calling for the boycott of Muslim businesses by Buddhists. He has recently campaigned for restrictions on marriages between Buddhist women and men from other faiths.

In March at least 44 people were killed in sectarian strife in central Myanmar, with thousands of people left homeless after Buddhist mobs set whole Muslim neighbourhoods ablaze.

In one area alone, at least 20 pupils and four teachers from a Muslim madrassa were murdered, according to witnesses and rights groups.

Myanmar on Saturday lifted a state of emergency imposed in the riot-hit town "as peace and stability has already been restored", according to a notice in the state-backed New Light of Myanmar newspaper.

Communal unrest last year in the western state of Rakhine left about 200 people dead and up to 140,000 displaced, mainly Rohingya Muslims.

Some robed monks have taken part in the clashes.

Reformist President Thein Sein on Friday denied accusations by Human Rights Watch of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims.

The Myanmar leader said the claims were part of a "smear campaign" against his government in an interview with France 24 television towards the end of a European tour that took him to London and Paris.

Thein Sein met Myanmar religious organisations and the country's human rights commission in Yangon on Sunday in an effort to "build trust" between faith groups, presidential spokesman Ye Htut said.

"We will take action to anyone who incites communal conflict," he told reporters Sunday, but declined to comment on Wirathu's group specifically.

UN faces ‘serious funding shortfall’ for Kachin humanitarian relief

UN staff distributes food to displaced families at the Seng Mai Pa camp near Majayang on 28 March 2012. (WPN)

The United Nations humanitarian relief programme geared towards assisting those displaced by the Kachin conflict has so far raised only US$14.6 million of the US$50.9 million UN officials estimate is needed.

“In view of the serious funding shortfall, the Emergency Relief Coordinator earlier this week allocated US$3 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) under the under-funded window,” said UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon’s spokesperson Eri Kaneko in an exchange with DVB last week.

According to Ban’s spokesperson, the CERF funding “is intended to fill critical gaps in humanitarian programme to sustain operations, including needs associated with the current rainy season, while other funding sources continue to be identified”.

Officials with the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimate that there are 85,600 internally displaced people (IDP) in Kachin state with 35,000 sheltering in government-controlled camps and an additional 50,600 living in camps located in the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO)’s territory.

The UN says that as of the end of June there were also an additional 4,400 displaced people living in government-controlled camps located along a stretch of Kachin-inhabited parts of northern Shan state mainly Namkham, Namtu, Manton, Muse and Kutkai.

Aid workers report that the actual number of IDPs in government-controlled areas may be significantly higher than the UN estimates because large numbers of Kachin are reluctant to register with camp authorities out of fear that the government would punish them.

Many appear afraid of ending up like Brang Shawng, a displaced Kachin farmer who was living with his family in a camp near Myitkyina until last year when he was arrested last for his alleged connection to a KIO plot – a charge his family strongly denies.

Apart from having difficulty raising funds for Kachin humanitarian relief, the UN and its agencies have struggled to gain access to those IDPs living in camps located in areas controlled by the KIO.

Last month, when a UN aid convoy reached the KIO’s second largest town of Mai Ja Yang, it was the first time that the international body had been given permission to travel to KIO territory by the Burmese government in nearly a year. It remains unclear when further aid convoys will be allowed to travel behind rebel lines.

Figures provided by the UN show that from December 2011 to June 2013, UN teams made a total of 11 cross-line aid missions to KIO territory. The aid that the UN delivered reached about 20 percent (approximately 10,000 people) of the total number of IPDs living in non-government controlled territory.

Because of the serious restrictions preventing aid reaching IDPs in KIO territory, the situation in these camps remains very serious. According to a report released in May by the US aid group Refugees International (RI), the IDPs camps in KIO areas were described as  “a crisis in waiting”.

The Washington-based group recommends that the UN and international NGO’s do more to support the Kachin civil society organisations already operating on the ground in KIO territory.

Yet this has largely not happened since their report was published. Instead a serious lack of food and opportunities to earn an income has driven many displaced Kachin to venture into China in search of paid work. This has in turn led to conditions where many Kachin women refugees have been tricked into forced marriages with Chinese men or other forms of human trafficking after crossing into China.

It remains to be seen what the UN will do about the increasingly dire conditions in the Kachin IDP camps. The RI report criticised the global body for failing to hold the government to account for its “broken promises of humanitarian access to parts of Kachin State held by the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO)”.

While the RI report also urged the UN’s Burma policy team to “change its current, overly cautious approach to its advocacy with the government”, aid workers say it remains very unlikely the UN will do so out of fear that their agencies will have their already limited access in Kachin and Arakan states further restricted.

Radical Myanmar Buddhist monk unhurt in bomb blast

Buddhist monk Wirathu (C), leader of the 969 movement, attends a meeting on the National Protection Law at a monastery outside Yangon, in this June 27, 2013 file picture. REUTERS-Soe Zeya Tun
YANGON | Mon Jul 22, 2013

(Reuters) - A bomb exploded meters away from a radical Buddhist monk as he delivered a mass sermon in Myanmar, police said on Monday, the latest flare-up in tensions pitting Buddhists against minority Muslims.

Wirathu, the prominent monk who heads a movement accused of stirring violence against Muslims, said he believed the blast on Sunday evening in Myanmar's second city, Mandalay, was intended to silence him.

The home-made bomb went off inside a parked car, according to police and witnesses. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Tensions have been smoldering between radical elements of Myanmar's Buddhist majority and Muslims. Bouts of religious violence have killed at least 237 people and displaced 150,000 in the past year, testing the resolve of a two-year-old quasi-civilian government.

The device exploded during a ceremony conducted by Wirathu, who once called himself "the Burmese bin Laden". He is the chief proponent of a movement known as 969, which reformist President Thein Sein's office has described as a "symbol of peace".

Wirathu was unharmed, despite being 40 feet from the blast, according to police. Five people were slightly injured, including a novice monk.

Sources close to Wirathu could not be immediately reached for comment. However, the monk told Radio Free Asia's Burmese service that he had previously received a sound recording containing a threat to his life, which he believed was the voice of a Muslim cleric.

The bomb, he said, was intended to silence him.

"I've no idea who exactly carried out this explosion. But it must have been done by those who usually carry out terrorist acts," he told Radio Free Asia.

"The motive could be to shut my mouth."

Reuters investigations in two of the hotspots of unrest - Rakhine state and the central city of Meikhtila - have revealed the violence was on both occasions fanned by monks who led Buddhist mobs.

"We can say it was a small hand-made bomb that caused the explosion. We are not in a position to reveal any more information at the moment since investigation is ongoing," a Mandalay police officer told Reuters by telephone, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.


A witness said security had since been stepped up in Mandalay. Even prior to the explosion, security had been tight during Buddhist events held in the past week in the commercial capital, Yangon.

The explosion took place on the fifth and final day of mass sermons held by Wirathu.

The president's office, which says it wants to foster peace, tolerance and unity in ethnically diverse Myanmar, has described Wirathu as "a son of Lord Buddha". Buddhists make up about 90 percent of the estimated 60 million population.

The 969 movement has been accused of stirring anti-Muslim sentiment in a deeply Buddhist nation, where curbs on freedom of speech and assembly have eased since the end of military rule two years ago.

A Reuters investigation last month showed 969 monks were providing a moral justification for a wave of anti-Muslim bloodshed that could derail Myanmar's nascent reforms.

Government officials were unavailable for comment about Sunday's explosion.

(Reporting by a Reuters reporter; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Ron Popeski)

Thein Sein Not Gearing Up for 2015 Election

Thein Sein gives a speech in Bangkok, April 29, 2013. AFP
  Myanmar President Thein Sein said Friday that he is not preparing to run in elections in 2015 and that he would not oppose opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi vying for the top post.

Speaking in a television interview in France, the visiting reformist leader said it is up to Myanmar’s parliament to decide whether it will amend the country’s 2008 constitution, which bars Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency.

He said he was not making plans for a bid in the next general election.

“As of now, I have not prepared myself to run in the upcoming 2015 presidential election,” Thein Sein said in the France 24 interview, speaking through an interpreter at the end of his first official visit to Paris.

The 68-year-old Thein Sein, a former military leader, has overseen a series of wide-ranging political and economic reforms in Myanmar since taking office in March 2011 after landmark elections the year before.

Previously he had said he would prefer not to run although it “depends on the needs of country and the wishes of the people.”

But in Friday’s interview he said he had no plans aside from working for a better future for Myanmar.

“I’d like to bring peace to my country, bring social and economic development which the people have been longing for, and … build a better future for the young people of Myanmar; that’s all I have in mind.”

Aung San Suu Kyi and the Constitution

Thein Sein also said that he would not stand in the way if parliament decided to amend the constitution to pave the way for Aung San Suu Kyi to bid for the presidency.

The charter, written during the military junta regime, has a provision blocking anyone whose spouse or children are foreign citizens from becoming president.  Aung San Suu Kyi's two sons with her late British husband hold U.K. citizenship, and the clause is widely believed to be targeted at her.

The Nobel laureate has said she wants to go for the post if her party wins the 2015 elections. Shwe Mann, speaker of the Lower House of parliament and chairman of Thein Sein’s Union Development and Solidarity Party, has also said he is interested in the presidency.

“If the parliamentarians and the people decide to amend the constitution, I have nothing to say; I just have to follow their decision,” Thein Sein said, adding that some amendments to the constitution would require a referendum.

“As far as Aung San Suu Kyi’s candidacy is concerned, I have no objections.”

The opposition has also sought to revise parts of the constitution that reserve a quarter of seats in parliament for members of the military.

Martyrs’ Day

Thein Sein’s remarks came as Myanmar commemorated Martyrs’ Day with a revived tribute to slain independence hero Aung San, Aung San Suu Kyi’s father.

Horns and sirens blared in the streets at 10:37 am in a resurrection of an old tradition marking the exact time Aung San—considered the father of modern Myanmar—and eight others were assassinated 66 years ago, shortly before the country’s independence.
Aung San Suu Kyi pays her respects at the Martyrs' Mausoleum in Yangon, July 19, 2013. Photo credit:RFA.
Public displays of celebration for the holiday were long forbidden by the country’s former military rulers, largely because of the popularity of Aung San Suu Kyi.

State-owned radio stations used to broadcast sirens in her father’s honor but the custom was stopped for many years.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who was kept under house arrest by the military junta until 2010 and elected to parliament in April last year, took part in a state ceremony at the Martyrs’ Mausoleum in Yangon on Friday followed by an event at her NLD headquarters and a reception at her residence.

Shwe Mann, whom Aung San Suu Kyi asked on Thursday for assistance in pushing for constitutional amendments, attended the reception at her residence.  

In a speech at the NLD event, Aung San Suu Kyi said that although Martyrs’ Day is generally considered a sorrowful occasion, it should also be a chance to consider the kind of leaders Myanmar should have in the future.

“We could fill up our strength and take pride in the feeling that we had these leaders in the past and we have the possibility to have these kinds of leaders again in the future.”

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

Tibetans Injured in Chinese Gang Attack Over Land Dispute

An unidentified Tibetan injured in the Chinese gang attack recovering in a Gansu hospital, July 17, 2013. Photo courtesy of an RFA listener.
More than a dozen Tibetans were severely injured in an attack by a 100-strong armed Chinese gang over a long running land dispute in a village in Qinghai province, according to sources at the weekend.

The attack occurred last Wednesday in the Tibetan-populated Arik Dragkar village in Dola (in Chinese, Qilian) county on the border with the Chinese township of Tsomen in Minle in Gansu province.

The Tibetans have been locked in a land dispute with the residents of Tsomen for decades but the latest attack on a Tibetan security post in the village was among the bloodiest, with at least 17 seriously wounded, one Tibetan in the area said.

Lightning raid
One of the Tibetans who suffered broken legs.

The Tsomen residents allegedly hired a Chinese gang of about 100 who launched a lightning raid on the  post manned by Tibetans living in tents.

"They came in motor vehicles and on horses and were armed with crude weapons using nails, stones, and sticks," a resident told RFA's Tibetan Service.

"There were about 30 Tibetans [at the security post] and 17 of them were severely injured. Others managed to escape to the hills," he said.

Officials and police from Dola and Minle counties arrived at the scene and restored calm, residents said.

Rabten, the head of the Dragkar village, was among those severely injured and receiving treatment at a hospital in Gansu.

"Both the hands and legs of Rabten were broken," another resident said, adding that most of the others suffered serious wounds in their head and legs.

The Tibetans from Tsomen village called for reinforcements in a bid to attack the Minle police but were advised against doing so by officials in Doha county, which comes under Qinghai's Tsojang (in Chinese, Haibei) Tibetan Autonomous prefecture.
Another unidentified Tibetan wounded in the attack.

Residents in Tibetan-populated areas in Qinghai have long been engulfed in land disputes amid allegations that the Chinese authorities in some cases have been seizing their land and giving it to new Chinese migrants.

In April, Chinese security forces detained 21 Tibetans following clashes with police over a forced demolition of recently rebuilt homes in the earthquake-hit town of Kyegudo in the Yulshul (in Chinese, Yushu) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.

At least six Tibetans and four policemen were injured in the clashes after a protest by over 100 area residents angered by the demolition of Tibetan homes in Kyegudo.

The town was mostly destroyed by a devastating earthquake in 2010 that killed almost 3,000 residents by official count.

Now, Chinese authorities have begun to demolish rebuilt Tibetan homes, saying their occupants are not officially registered to live in the town, sources said.

Many of the houses were built by families on their own land and with their own resources, sources said.

In late March, a Tibetan woman set herself on fire to protest the demolition of her home in the Kyegudo area.

A total of 121 Tibetans have self-immolated in protest against Chinese rule in Tibetan-populated areas since the wave of fiery protests began in 2009.

Reported by Lumbum Tashi, Chakmo Tso and Yandon Demo. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.

No Word on Fate Of Beijing Airport Wheelchair Bomber

Chinese security personnel prevent media members from getting closer to the scene of the blast at Beijing's main airport, July 20, 2013. AFP
Relatives of a disabled man who at the weekend set off an explosive device at Beijing's main airport in an apparent protest against police brutality say they had received no word of his fate on Monday, although official media said his original grievance case would be re-investigated.

"I really don't know where my brother is right now," Ji Zhongji, brother of "wheelchair bomber" Ji Zhongxing told RFA. "I don't know his [physical] condition."

He said the family had yet to receive any official notification from police regarding the fate of Ji, 33, from the eastern city of Heze, who detonated a home-made explosive while sitting on his wheelchair on Saturday, injuring himself and no one else at the exit area of the international arrivals section of Terminal 3.

"They haven't been to see us, we've had nothing," he said.

An official who answered the phone at the Beijing municipal police department declined to comment on the case.

"I don't know," the official said, when asked if Ji had been criminally detained. "You'll have to send a fax over, and someone here will answer your questions."

Complaints not taken seriously

Ji's brother blamed his apparent suicide bombing attempt on the refusal of the Chinese authorities to take his official complaints seriously.

Ji was severely beaten by police staff in 2005 when he had worked as a motorcycle driver in Dongguan in southern Guangdong province, causing him to become disabled, various reports have said. But the incident could not be independently verified.

"Our brother suffered a great deal of injustice," Ji Zhongji said. "He has been running around everywhere, day after day over this, but to no avail."

"Our family has had to spend a lot of money on his medical costs, and we have none left now."

He said the family had been unaware of Ji's plans to detonate the home-made device.

"When it happened, the family told me, and I just broke down when I saw it [on TV]," he said.


Video of the incident posted by a bystander online showed crowds of people gathering around a verbal confrontation in Beijing's Capital Airport on Saturday, then moving away after apparently being warned to do so by Ji.

An explosion then obscures the camera phone footage, and the phone owner begins to run.

Officials in Guangdong said they would look into Ji's allegations, official media reported on Sunday.

Ji, 34, was stopped by security staff when he tried to hand out leaflets outside Gate B of the airport's arrival hall on Saturday evening, the English-language China Daily newspaper reported.

Ji then warned people nearby to get away before he set off an explosive device in his bag, injuring himself and a policeman, the paper said.

According to his blog, which was inaccessible after the incident, Ji was attacked by police in Dongguan in the early hours of June 28, 2005, while he was carrying a passenger on his motorcycle.

Ji blamed the attack for causing spinal injuries which left him paralyzed.


The Dongguan municipal police department has denied that Ji's injuries were the result of police violence, saying he fell from his motorcycle in a collision with a policeman.

However, local publicity officials have backed up Ji's story.

Ji's blast protest came after he unsuccessfully sued the Dongguan government for compensation in January 2007, a decision that was upheld on appeal to the Dongguan Intermediate People's Court in January 2008.

Dongguan police say they paid 100,000 yuan (U.S.  $16,283) to Ji in compensation in March 2010, after he petitioned the central government in Beijing.

Netizens came out in broad support of Ji, according to posts on China's popular social media sites.

Big-name tweeter Zuoyeben, who has 6.52 million followers on Sina Weibo, wrote: "Each unjustly treated person is a ticking time-bomb for the whole country."

Beijing-based rights lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan called for an investigation from a higher level of government than Dongguan.

"This can only be investigated by a higher level, from Beijing," he said. "If Dongguan investigates, we'll never get to the bottom of it."

Father detained

Liu said Ji's father was reportedly under detention by Shandong police.

"I'm guessing they're afraid he'll come out and blab," he said.

Repeated calls to the Dongguan municipal propaganda department and Heze county government went unanswered during offfice hours on Monday.

Rights groups have hit out at the ruling Chinese Communist Party for keeping up a "stranglehold" on dissidents and rights activists in recent years, subjecting thousands to arbitrary detention in labor camps and unofficial "black jails."

China's army of petitioners—many of whom pursue complaints against the government over forced evictions, wrongful detention, physical attacks, and deaths in custody—are increasingly targeted by police and officials for punishment.

Many of those who pursue official complaints against government wrongdoing in their hometowns have done so to no avail for several years; some for decades. Many are middle-aged or elderly people with little or no income who rent ramshackle accommodation in Beijing's "petitioner villages."

Earlier this month, a petitions website set up by the Communist Party to handle public complaints crashed on its first day of operation, amid widespread speculation that the sheer number of petitioners had overloaded the server.

Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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