Myinn Muu Protest and Riot

Myinn Muu Protest and Riot

Views on Bill to Protect Nationality, Religion and Śāsana

Views on Bill to Protect Nationality, Religion and Śāsana

Gas Pipeline Compensation and Residents in Ngepe, Magway

Gas Pipeline Compensation and Residents in Ngepe, Magway

Rakhine traditional liberty festival

Rakhine traditional liberty festival

Protest Against Demolition and Eviction of Thameelay Village

Protest Against Demolition and Eviction of Thameelay Village

Suu Kyi calls for nation-building at literary festival

A file picture of Aung San Suu Kyi from 2010. (PHOTO: Reuters)

Speaking at the Irrawaddy Literary Festival in Mandalay on Saturday, Burmese pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi said she wants to see Burmese people participating in nation-building.

“What I want are people who understand why they want a united peaceful prosperous country,” she told a packed room at the Mandalay Hill Resort.

The Burmese opposition leader said people should not sit back and hope that others work for the country, and that each and every citizen has a duty to their country. “People should understand that we are not alone in the world,” she said, “and they need to understand how to share and work with others.”

This was the second annual Irrawaddy Literary Festival. Last year the event was held at the Inya Lake Hotel in Rangoon and was likewise presided over by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi.

Several well-known international authors and poets spoke at the Mandalay gathering from 14 to 16 February, including Louis de Bernières (The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts, The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin) and Jung Chang (Wild Swans).

Villagers Speak against Authorities' Denial to Protest Minister U Ohn Myint

Villagers Speak against Authorities' Denial to Protest Minister U Ohn Myint

Myanmar journalists on trial for reporting on alleged chemical weapons factory

Five journalists have been charged with “disclosing state secrets” after their newspaper carried a story about an alleged chemical weapons factory. Photo: Reuters
Reuters in Yangon

Myanmar police have charged five journalists with "disclosing state secrets" after their newspaper carried a story about an alleged chemical weapons factory, state media reported yesterday.

The trial of four reporters and the head of Unity Journal began on February 14 in Pakokku, a town in the country's central region where the military facility is located, the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper said.

New Light of Myanmar said additional charges under the Official Secrets Act included "trespassing on the restricted area of the factory".

Government spokesman Ye Htut told local media last week that the factory did not produce chemical weapons.

The Committee to Protect Journalists on February 3 called for the suspects' release, saying "journalists should not be threatened or arrested for reporting on topics of national and international importance".

The Unity Journal story claimed the secret facility was built in 2009 and consisted of tunnels burrowed under 1,200 hectares of land, and it quoted workers as saying the factory produced chemical weapons, according to the CPJ.

Myanmar's former junta, which handed power to a quasi-civilian government in 2011, has denied accusations that it used chemical weapons against ethnic insurgent groups.

In 2005, rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide said it had interviewed five ethnic Karen rebels who had suffered symptoms consistent with a chemical weapons attack, adding that government soldiers who had defected had told it the use of chemical weapons was widespread.

Tourists flock to Burma’s only synagogue


The Musmeah Yeshua is a 120-year old synagogue located on 26th street in Rangoon’s downtown.

It is the last remaining synagogue in Rangoon, making it the only one in Burma.

Caretaker Sammy Samuel said the synagogue is attracting more and more tourists.

“About three or four years back, when we received 10 visitors in one day, then we would call it a very busy day,” he said. “Nowadays, we get about 40-50 visitors every morning.”

Musmeah Yeshua is nearly top of the list of Rangoon attractions.

“The special thing is that this temple ranked third among top 41 attractions in Rangoon,” said Sammy Samuel.

The synagogue is also one of 188 archaeological heritage buildings in the city.

One of the big attractions to the synagogue is an ancient leather-bound Torah scroll.

Sammy Samuel said the synagogue attracts tourists from all religions and nationalities.

“There used to be only Jewish people visiting the venue but now we also receive Muslims, Christians, Japanese and Chinese – pretty much everyone,” he said.

Burma once had a thriving Sephardic Jewish community, mainly made of up Jews from the Middle East who had arrived in Burma during colonial times.

Before the Second World War, there were about 2,500 Jewish people in Burma, but many fled during Japanese occupation.

Now there are only about eight Jewish families left in the whole country.

The synagogue is still a hub; Sammy Samuel said they hold intercultural meetings and festivals throughout the year.

Musmeah Yeshua continues to inspire curiosity as more tourists flock to see this old colonial relic.

North Korea's Kim Jails 40 Entertainers Linked to His Executed Uncle

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) smiling as he sits with Korean People's Army (KPA) service officers after their performance at the 36th KPA Art Festival at the Mansudae Art Theatre in Pyongyang, in a photo released on Oct. 28, 2013.. AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un has ordered the jailing of 40 popular actors and actresses as part of his relentless crackdown on those closely linked to his executed uncle, sources say.

Jang Song Thaek's execution two months ago followed a massive purge in the government and military, and Kim seems to be moving now to flush out Jang's allies in the entertainment industry, according to the sources.

“About 40 entertainers, referred to as a group linked to Jang Song Thaek, have been sent to Soosung prison in Chongjin in North Hamgyong province,” a source told RFA's Korean Service, referring to a detention facility that is usually reserved for "first class" political prisoners.

"I heard this from a North Korean official of North Hamgyong province who is in charge of earning foreign currency," the source said, as if to reinforce the credibility of his information.  

The source said he was informed that entertainers belonging to such popular groups as the Chosun Art Film Studio, Pyongyang Circus Troupe and Mansudae Art Theater were taken to the prison facility on Jan. 17 in two trucks.

Among those thrown in prison were Ryu Jin Ah, a singer with the Moranbong Band who is known to be Jang's "lover," and Li Yik Seung, an actor with Chosun Art Film Studio believed to be involved in "procuring" actresses for Jang and officials close to him, another source said.

Moranbong Band made a public appearance in July 2012 on Kim's orders and Ryu was bestowed a top entertainer title a year later, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

Li, who won the Kim Jong Il Award in February 2012, played the role of a mine owner in “Comrade Kim Goes Flying,” a 2012 romantic comedy film co-produced by North Korea, Britain and Belgium.

'Womanizing problem'

The second source, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said Ryu and Li were linked to the 67-year-old Jang's "womanizing problem," cited as among reasons for his execution aside from the more serious charges of attempting to overthrow the government and seize power from his nephew.

“It is well known among residents in North Hamgyong province that a number of entertainers have been confined in the Soosung prison in Chongjin,” the source said.

A former Japanese chef for the Kim family had told RFA recently that Kim ordered Jang's execution for his role in procuring teenage girls to satisfy the sexual desires of Kim's father and Jang himself.

Chef Kenji Fujimoto said that by having Jang killed, Kim "wanted to prove that he's different" from his father Kim Jong Il and his grandfather Kim Il Sung, both of whom he said had "quite a history with women."

Fujimoto, who was Kim Jong Il's personal sushi chef from 1988 to 2001, claimed that aside from his official duties as de facto number two to Kim Jong Il, the 67-year-old Jang had been in charge of a "pleasure division" tasked with recruiting girls aged 15-16 years for the late dictator.

In his New Year message broadcast on state TV, Kim Jong Un defended the execution of his uncle—who was married to his father’s sister—saying it was a "resolute action" and labeling Jang "scum."

Jang was also de facto number two under the junior Kim before his execution and was considered instrumental in his rise to power in December 2011.

Sources inside North Korea had told RFA earlier that Kim was already purging the country's military officer corps of personnel linked to Jang in a massive shake-up that has led to a freeze on military exercises and delayed replacement of cadres in the ruling party but raised promotion prospects for younger officers.

Reported by Sung-hui Moon for RFA's Korean Service. Translated by Doeun Han. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.

UN Envoy Holds Talks With Kachin Government, Rebel Leaders Amid Clashes

U.N. envoy Tomas Quintana (R)greets Kachin Chief Minister La John Ngan Hsai in the state's capital Myitkyina, Feb. 16, 2014. RFA
Visiting U.N. human rights envoy for Myanmar Tomas Quintana held talks Sunday with government officials and ethnic rebels in northern Kachin state where fresh fighting threatens to mar President Thein Sein's plans to sign a permanent nationwide ceasefire agreement.

He met separately with Kachin’s Chief Minister La John Ngan Hsai in the state's capital Myitkyina and with leaders of the Kachin Independence Organization, the political wing of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), in Laiza, a rebel stronghold along the Myanmar-China border, officials said.

The meeting took place as the government beefed up military reinforcements around Laiza following deadly clashes that erupted last week after a brief respite, reports said.

Two KIA-controlled frontline posts that served as "protection" for the group's Laiza base were seized by Myanmar government troops after heavy clashes on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Kachin News Group reported on Thursday.

No findings yet

Quintana, who is the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, did not offer any of his findings yet following the Kachin trip, which also included visits to camps located in rebel areas that are sheltering refugees scrambling from war-torn areas.

“The government as well as the KIO have shown willingness to let us visit the IDP [internally displaced persons] camps around Laiza and that is where we are headed to," he said before proceeding to rebel stronghold.

"This trip is very important for my role," he said.

"The people in these areas have suffered a lot from the fighting and I’d like to hear their voices too,” said Quintana, who arrived last week on a six-day final official visit to Myanmar to assess the current human rights situation in the country and follow up on his previous recommendations.

La John Ngan Hsai said he discussed with Quintana prospects for coordination of relief efforts for refugees outside government-controlled areas.

"We are making our best efforts to provide in the IDP camps stability, health, education and housing opportunities for all the refugees with the help of NGOs as well as the authorities," he said.

The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the political wing of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), is the only major Myanmar rebel group that has not yet signed a cease-fire pact with the government.

In October last year, the government and Kachin rebels failed to nail down a permanent cease-fire accord, but signed a new agreement aimed at reducing hostilities and laying the groundwork for political dialogue.

March meeting

Government peace negotiators are scheduled to meet with key ethnic rebel groups in Hpa-An, capital of eastern Myanmar’s Kayin (Karen) state, in March to lay the groundwork for a nationwide ceasefire agreement and crucial  talks that could lead to a federal system of government giving ethnic states more powers.

Quintana on Friday visited the volatile western Rakhine state, where Buddhist attacks on the Muslim Rohingya population have left more than 200 dead and tens of thousands displaced since 2012.

He faced protests by scores of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, who accused of him being biased in his reports which they said were in favor of the Rohingyas.

The Rohingyas, who have borne the brunt of violence in Rakhine, are considered illegal immigrants by the Myanmar government even though they have lived in the country for decades.

The U.N. considers the Rohingyas as among the most oppressed groups in the world.  

Quintana visited the prison in Rakhine's capital Sittwe and refugee camps housing thousands of mostly Rohingyas who were displaced by clashes in the state. He also held talks with government and community leaders.

He will hold a press conference in Yangon on Wednesday before returning to Geneva, where he will present his final report on the rights situation in Myanmar at the Human Rights Council on March 17.

Reported by RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.

Thekone farmers strike

Thekone farmers strike

Letter from Asia: Reflections on love and marriage from a monk who fought for Burmese democracy

It is an unlikely match - one forged over resistance to dictatorship

It is only natural that in any love story a couple can reflect on their relationship in different ways.

For Ashin Gambira, the former Buddhist monk who helped lead Burma’s Saffron revolution, it is the need for a partner to care for him, to massage his head three times a day and help him remember to take his medicine. For Marie Siochana, an Australian activist, it is the way she was slowly drawn to the courage of a man who was jailed for 65 years for heading the democracy protests.

The couple married last summer in Mandalay, spontaneously, just a few days after they had met for the first time in person and just hours after they had experienced their first argument. Now they are on an unlikely honeymoon of sorts in Thailand where Mr Gambira is seeking medical treatment and trying to work out what to do next.

“He said ‘Marie, tomorrow we are going to get married’,” said Ms Siochana, when we met last week in a monastery in northern Thailand. “He didn’t ask.”

In the autumn of 2007, the 34-year-old Mr Gambira was a member of the underground All-Burma Monks Alliance when he ensured his place in history. A protest initially sparked by a monk being insulted by officials swelled into a demand for democracy that saw tens of thousands of people pour on to the streets of Burma’s biggest cities. The monks, wearing their saffron robes, led the civilians.

The regime responded violently. Dozens were killed and in the aftermath, those suspected of being involved were given severe jail sentences. Mr Gambira was tortured and kept in solitary confinement. He also caught malaria.

As President Thein Sein set Burma on a journey towards democracy, the monk was released in January 2012 only to be detained again when he tried to reopen monasteries that had been sealed. He was released once more in November that year and was among a select number of guests invited to hear Barack Obama speak at Rangoon University. He said his time in jail had left him suffering from headaches and poor memory and may have exacerbated feelings of depression that he had experienced before being jailed. “When I got to prison the strain was very bad, mentally and physically,” he said.

Ms Siochana, born in Perth and raised on the Gold Coast, said she learned about the “quite good-looking” monk via social media in 2011 and began campaigning for him. (She is involved in a number of causes, including the campaign to prove the innocence of an Australian woman, Schapelle Corby, who was convicted of drug smuggling in Bali and who was released on parole last week.)

“There was nothing romantic between us when he was a monk, obviously, but we became closer after he left. I admired him a lot and felt very drawn to him,” she said. “It was a gamble marrying someone I’d met online but I felt like I knew him so well already and knew all about his life.”

Mr Gambira has faced continued harassment in Burma where he has campaigned for labour rights and against land dispossession and has clashed with pro-government elements within the powerful Buddhist clergy. On 17 April 2012 he ended his life as a monk.

Despite that, he has been one of the few voices to speak out against what he terms Burma’s growing “Islamophobia” and the persecution of its Muslim Rohingya population. He said that there was wrong on both sides – he claimed Muslims were increasingly trying to marry Buddhist women and force them to become Muslim – but he said people had to talk to each other to resolve the conflict.

“I am working for religious reconciliation. We need to help each other and give and take,” he said, as he served up a simple breakfast of coffee and rusk biscuits in the monks’ dining area.

“We need to change the Buddhist extremists’ opinion of the Muslims and change the Muslims’ attitudes towards human rights. We must change the bad mind-set of both communities.”

Mr Gambira said many in Burma were against him – the government, Buddhist extremists and certain politicians who were “jealous of his fame”. Yet he recognised there was much for him to do.

He said he would like to return to his country and continue to work on the issues he has drawn attention to. But for now, he and his wife, who has two children from a previous relationship, feel safer in Thailand.

Some days after Ms Siochana flew to Mandalay where Mr Gambira met her on his motorbike and took her to see his family, the former monk was attacked in a village by men he believes are linked to a politician he had upset.

In the end, the couple had to flee the town. That was when he decided they should get married.

And how does he enjoy married life? Mr Gambira smiled, his teeth red with betel nut. “I need someone to look after me.”

If he could get an Australian passport, a move to Australia might be an option. But that does not seem likely at the moment. “Right now,” said Ms Siochana, “we have  no plan.”

Altered Images: Burmese leader 'in costume' confuses press

The weekly publication has not commented on the image
A doctored image of Burmese President Thein Sein in traditional dancing costume has Altered Images: Burmese leader 'in costume' confuses press

appeared next to a picture of a historic agreement between the Burmese government and its main ethnic minorities, causing confusion.

Some commentators say The Right Time's front-page mash-up of the president and the 1947 Panglong Agreement is misleading because it connects him with efforts to reach a ceasefire with ethnic minorities. Others say the photo is inappropriate and disrespectful.

Ko Ko, editor of the Yangon Times, says such images set a bad precedent. "We are trying to promote ethics among journalists, so I am upset by this," he told the Irrawaddy newspaper. But Shawn Crispin, who represents the Committee to Protect Journalists in South-East Asia, said: "Burma's leaders need to be more open to criticism and less prickly about their portrayals in the press."

President Thein Sein is usually seen wearing a suit
The image has appeared not long after several journalists were put in jail, earlier this year, and as the government prepares to discuss legislation that might increase press freedoms. Burmese media reports suggest the weekly publication has not commented on the image.


Thaksin makes merit in Myanmar

Senator Somchai Sawaengkarn on Monday posted on his Facebook wall photos of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra who, he said, had joined a meritmaking rite in Myanmar.
The rite was reportedly aimed at chasing away bad karma.

Somchai wrote a caption for the combo of Thaksin photos that read "Who’s that in Myanmar?"

He did not say when the photos were taken.

Earlier photos of Bangkok police chief Pol Lt Gen Camronwit Toopgrajank and Social Development Minister Pavena Hongsakul at an airport went viral in social networks. They were reportedly leaving for Myanmar.

North Koreans Forced to Register Livestock for Military Leather Supplies

A farmer uses an ox-pulled cart to transport wood in Wonsan, Dec. 2011 / BILDERBERG
Households in North Korea will soon have to register their livestock with the authorities and sell the skins from their slaughtered animals to the government so that the military can have more leather for soldiers’ belts and boots, according to sources in the country.

Under a new “Domestic Animal Reporting System” to be launched across the country, North Koreans will face imprisonment or fines if they do not provide the skins to the authorities after slaughtering their cows, goats, pigs, and sheep, the sources said.

Households will lose out on income because they will receive lower prices for their leather from the government than they normally get from selling it on the black market, multiple sources said.

Families will also be left with less meat to eat because they will be required to provide hides from animals they normally avoid skinning to preserve the amount of meat, they said.

“All households must report the sort and number of their domestic animals to the village office, and the North Korean authorities will collect the leather of animals slaughtered,” a source in Chagang province in the north of the country told RFA’s Korean Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The new system was reportedly discussed at a recent executive government session.

Low rates

Another source, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said authorities would pay the equivalent of U.S. $0.02 per kilogram (2 pounds) for the leather, much lower than the U.S. $9 per kilogram rate it sells at on the black market.

North Korean families have complained about the low rates, the source said.

“They don’t hesitate to blame the government, saying this system amounts to looting by the government,” he said.

Other sources reported individuals will be fined up to the equivalent of U.S. $50—an amount comparable to 100 times an average workers’ monthly wage—while state farm managers who do so may be sentenced to up to three years’ in prison.

The source in Chagang province said North Korean families do not usually skin pigs, sheep, and goats in order to preserve more of the animals’ meat, but will have to do so under the new system.

Military demand

Authorities were introducing the system to fulfill growing demand for leather from the military, the source said.

The military has been in need of leather for shoes and belts issued to soldiers as part of their uniforms, according to a source in Yanggang province, also in the north of the country.

The military prefers the items to be made out of leather because it trains soldiers to boil the material and eat it if they are facing starvation in emergency conditions, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“In recent years, the North Korean authorities have provided the military with shoes and belts made of artificial leather, and the military has been very discontent with these artificial items which cannot be used as food in case of emergency,” the source said.

Reported by Sung-hui Moon for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Doeun Han. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

Pay-boost proposal for Burmese doctors, medical workers

A patient is carried to hospital in Arakan State, August 2013. (PHOTO: Reuters)

Burma’s Health Minister Dr Pe Thet Khin proposed to parliament on Wednesday a threefold increase in pay for medical workers who are posted to remote areas.

The proposal – part of the 2014-15 National Planning Bill – is for the additional salary to be paid by the Ministry of Border Affairs and the relevant regional government, on top of their monthly State pay.

Pe Thet Khin suggested that increased pay and the reintroduction of a rotation system for rural postings might put a stop to the problem of medical professionals “deserting” difficult posts.

Extending regional healthcare represents one of the greatest challenges for Burma. International relief agency Médecins Sans Frontières has suggested that, in Burma, thousands of people have absolutely no access to healthcare whatsoever.

That lack of healthcare services in peripheral areas has proved to be disastrous. In Arakan State the UNICEF figure for malnourished children stood at 10.3 percent before the outbreak of communal violence in 2012. Now, with an estimated 115,000 people living in IDP camps within the state, that figure can only be higher.

In Kachin State, before a 17-year-old ceasefire broke down and fighting resumed between the Kachin Independence Army and Burmese government forces, the World Health Organisation noted just 1,000 registered health workers supporting a population of 1.4 million people.

Despite increases in healthcare expenditure over the past three years, a trend to be continued in 2014, Burma rates as one of the worst in the world when it comes to health expenditure as a proportion of GDP. Successive Burmese governments have relied heavily on international assistance to prop up its ailing healthcare system. Heath expenditure features at just over three percent of Burma’s GDP, the defence spend comes in at over 20 percent.

Retired director of the Ministry of Health, Dr Khin Maung Lwin, told DVB in November that “The [current health] budget is $14 a year per person according to the government’s data, but actually it is even less than that.”

It is estimated that one-third of Burma’s 30,000 doctors work for the government.

thameegalay villageers 500 staying in monestary

thameegalay villageers 500 staying in monestary

Water Shortage in Magway Region

Water Shortage in Magway Region

Peoples in Alone Demonstrate To Amend 2008 Constitution

Peoples in Alone Demonstrate To Amend 2008 Constitution

UN pledges support in Burma’s fight against malnutrition

UNICEF says that improving nutrition could increase primary school completion rates from half to two-thirds of all Burmese children. (PHOTO:UNICEF)


Thursday 6 February saw the Government launch of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement. The program will aim to combat malnutrition in Burma, where a third of all children under five are stunted in their growth. It will be run in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), World Health Organisation (WHO), World Food Programme (WFP) and UNICEF.

SUN is designed to strengthen and fast track the implementation of the current “National Plan of Action for Food and Nutrition” (NPAFN), introduced in 2012 as a crucial element of Burma’s development strategy.

“Myanmar [Burma] has the third highest malnutrition rates across South East Asia after Cambodia and East Timor”, said Mr Bertrand Bainvel, UNICEF representative in Rangoon.

“[SUN is] an important step towards ending child malnutrition and better increasing the chances of all Myanmar [Burmese] children reaching their 5th birthdays,” Bainvel continued.

Inadequate food, poor hygiene, lack of access to safe water and limited healthcare services provide the root of malnutrition in Burma, once known as the “rice bowl of Asia”.

SUN, which operates in 46 countries worldwide, has enjoyed success in South East Asian neighbours Laos and Indonesia, who will contribute delegates to a two-and-a-half day implication-strategy seminar that follows the announcement Thursday.

The workshop will focus on enhancing the reach of the NPAFN into nutrition-sensitive sectors such as agriculture and fisheries, with the intention of social and economic improvement. UNICEF says that a 10 percent reduction in stunting could raise primary school completion rates from half of all children to two-thirds.

Dr Krongthong Thimasarn, WHO Acting Representative in Rangoon is equally ambitious: “If all nutrition interventions combined achieved 99 percent coverage, stunting could be dramatically reduced and the lives of some 10,000 Myanmar children could be saved annually,” he said.

Will Aung San Suu Kyi ever become president of Burma?

By Jonah Fisher BBC News, Rangoon
Aung San Suu Kyi has become visibly frustrated at the pace of constitutional reform
Given how rapidly things have changed in Burma, the country also known as Myanmar, it's tempting to see further reforms as inevitable. They're not.
On the surface it looks good. Political prisoners have been released and new laws have transformed the country's media landscape and economic prospects.
But scratch a little deeper and reforms are harder to find. The power wielded by Burma's army remains largely untouched, and there's so far been no sign that after decades at the helm the generals are going to start taking orders from civilians.
One of the more public indicators of the difficulties being faced by the reform process is a parliamentary review of the 2008 military-drafted constitution. Last week the 108-member constitutional review committee published its report, having received nearly 30,000 submissions on a broad range of issues.
Barrier to presidency
For Aung San Suu Kyi it makes depressing reading. With next year's election looming the 68-year-old's overriding concern is to get the clause that bars her from becoming president changed.
Written solely with the Nobel prize winner in mind, clause 59F states that the spouse and offspring of a prospective president cannot owe their "allegiance to a foreign power".
File photo: President Thein Sein waves during the opening ceremony of the 27th Southeast Asian Games in Naypyidaw on 11 December 2013 In public, Thein Sein is equivocal on the need for constitutional reform

Having married an Oxford academic, Ms Suu Kyi's two adult sons, Alexander and Kim, are both British, with little appetite for trading in their EU passports.
For the most part the parliamentary report skirts controversy by simply summarising the submissions it received. On Articles 59 and 60 which include the "Suu Kyi clause", for example, it states that 5,740 people had requested that it be amended, 55 that it be added to, 194 that it be removed and 51 that it be retained.
The few recommendations that have been made appear subtly designed to thwart Ms Suu Kyi's ambitions.
Priority should be given to changes that do not need a referendum, the report says (59F does), and also those related to consolidating peace with Burma's many armed ethnic groups.
"This severely hampers [Ms Suu Kyi's] strategy to remove the barrier to her becoming president," says Andrew McLeod, a lecturer in law from Oxford University and the deputy director of the Myanmar Constitutional Reform Project.
"If she continues to campaign on the presidential qualification issue, it could reinforce an impression that she's putting self-interest above the concerns of ethnic groups."
A trap?
With this first committee having taken several months to make its still inconclusive findings another was promptly set up - this time an "implementation" committee, with 31 members, just two of them from Ms Suu Kyi's party.
With her frustration visibly growing, Ms Suu Kyi's thoughts may be returning to the closing months of 2011.
Then, she held a series of meetings with President Thein Sein which culminated in the momentous announcement that for the first time in more than two decades Ms Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), would compete in elections.
File photo: workers unloading fish from a boat at a jetty near a fish market in Yangon, Burma, 11 September 2013 Burma's economy has opened up as western countries lifted sanctions

With that decision the Burmese political landscape was transformed and when by-elections were held on the 1 April 2012 Burma's status in the world changed decisively for the better.
Ms Suu Kyi and 42 of her NLD colleagues became members of parliament and a much derided political system could suddenly claim real legitimacy. Sceptics of the reform process around the world had to take a back seat and western countries quickly lifted economic sanctions and began to re-engage diplomatically.

At the time most assumed that in return for handing in her best bargaining chip Ms Suu Kyi had received guarantees from Thein Sein that he would champion the necessary constitutional changes.
So far that has not been the case. In public at least, Thein Sein is equivocal on the need for constitutional reform.
"I would not want restrictions being imposed on the right of any citizen to become the leader of the country," Thein Sein said in early January, before cautioning: "At the same time, we will need to have all necessary measures in place in order to defend our national interests and sovereignty."
Sovereignty is frequently mentioned by those seeking to justify the continued existence of 59F. Without clear direction from the top, and with the army possessing a veto in parliament the chances of a President Suu Kyi any time soon are remote.
"I think she's walked into a trap," David Mathieson, the Burma researcher for Human Rights Watch, said.

"I enter into your parliamentary process and legitimise your process, and in return you will amend 59F so I can be considered for president. Two years later that is looking more and more like a trap."

Obama singles out China, Myanmar on religious freedom

President Barack Obama on Thursday said global religious freedom was vital to US national security, and named China, and Myanmar among nations that should show more tolerance.

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama on Thursday said global religious freedom was vital to US national security, and named China, and Myanmar among nations that should show more tolerance.

"History shows that nations that uphold the rights of their people, including the freedom of religion are ultimately more just and more peaceful and more successful," Obama said at an annual National Prayer Breakfast.

"Nations that do not uphold these rights sow the bitter seeds of instability and violence and extremism.

"So freedom of religion matters to our national security."

Obama noted that there were times when he was forced to work with governments that did not meet US standards on rights, but that had agreed to cooperate on core national security interests.

But he said it was in US interests to stand up for universal rights, although it was not always comfortable.

"We do a lot of business with the Chinese... but I stress that realizing China's potential rests on upholding universal rights, including for Christians and Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims."

Obama said that when he meets Myanmar President Thein Sein, who he is supporting in an effort to bring the nation also known as Burma out of isolation, he states the case for Christian and Muslim minorities.

He also called for freedom of worship in Nigeria, in South Sudan and Sudan, and said access to holy sites must be a component of the Israeli-Palestinian peace deal that his Secretary of State John Kerry is chasing.

Obama also said that any deal to end Syria's vicious civil war must stipulate freedom of religion for Alawites and Sunnis, Shias and Christians.

Obama also called for the release of missionaries imprisoned while proselytising their faith, including US pastor Kenneth Bae in North Korea and Iranian American pastor Saeed Abedini in Iran.

The president also hit out at what he described as extremists who stoke the fires of division to further political ends, noting particularly factions in the Central Africa Republic.

"To harm anyone in the name of faith is to diminish our own relationship with God," Obama said.

"The killing of the innocent is never fulfilling God's will. In fact, it's the ultimate betrayal of God's will."

The National Prayer Breakfast is an annual event bringing together lawmakers, officials and decision makers from across party lines.

- AFP/al

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Karenni Refugees Want to Back Home Land

Karenni Refugees Want to Back Home Land

Home Affairs officials Question MP U Shwe Maung Over Arson Claim

Home Affairs officials Question MP U Shwe Maung Over Arson Claim

Embattled Minister U Ohn Myint Re-visits the Village

Embattled Minister U Ohn Myint Re-visits the Village

New Way factory workers protest over wage, equility

New Way factory workers protest over wage, equility

Harder life of Kayan Padaung tribe in Thai border

Harder life of Kayan Padaung tribe in Thai border

Thai border refugee population down 7 percent

TBC say the Thai border refugee population has decreased by 7.1 percent.

Updated 2013 population figures for the refugee camps on the Thai-Burmese border show that the net population decreased 9,044 or 7.1 percent in 2013. The total population living in the nine camps was 119,156 at the end of December 2013, compared to 128,200 at the end of 2012, according to The Border Consortium (TBC), an NGO that works with refugees and displaced people from Burma.

The largest proportion of departures from the camps, 7,649, consists of refugees leaving for third countries under the UNHCR’s resettlement programme.

“It is important to note that while there was a net population decrease, new refugees are continuing to arrive in the camps; there were 3,300 new asylum seekers arriving in 2013,” said Sally Thompson, executive director of TBC. “In addition, 3,137 children were born in camps in 2013,” Thompson added.

“Changes in population do not mean that there is any less need for protection, food, shelter, and essential services such as education and health care in the camps,” noted Thompson. “There are still 120,000 people living in extremely vulnerable conditions in refugee camps on Thai-Burmese border, and they continue to need protection and humanitarian assistance.”

TBC also notes that there is no indication a large proportion of refugees are returning to Burma. Only 3.4 percent of the December 2012 camp population returned to Burma, versus 6 percent who were resettled to third countries.

“These figures show us that refugees are not leaving the camps and retuning to Burma en masse,” said Thompson. “It appears that the majority of those returning are going back on a ‘look and see’ basis.”

TBC’s data shows that of the 4,389 people who did leave the camps to return to Burma, 70 percent of all departures include just one or two people from a household, while the rest of the household remains in the camps.

“TBC agrees with UNHCR, the Government of the Union of Myanmar, the Royal Thai Government, and many international partners that conditions do not yet exist for the organised return of refugees,” the report said.

An additional 3,348 refugees left the camps in 2013 to seek work in the migrant community, TBC reported.


Journalists arrested after publication of Chemical Weapons story

The front page of the 25 January edition of Unity Weekly depicted an allegedly secret government facility. (PHOTO: DVB TV)
Authorities in Rangoon and Magwe divisions have detained the Chief Executive Officer and a local reporter from news journal Unity Weekly. The arrests came as a result of a report published in the journal last month alleging the existence of a ‘secret chemical weapon factory’ in Magwe’s Pauk Township.

Unity Weekly CEO Tint San was arrested on Saturday morning by police officials who came to the Journal’s office without a warrant, according to staff.

The night before his arrest, Tint San told DVB that the reporter Lu Maw Naing had been arrested by police in connection with the report titled; ‘Secret Chemical Weapon [built] by the Former Senior-General, Chinese Technicians and the Current [Burmese Military] Commander in Chief’, which featured on the front page of the 25 January issue.

“Our reporter Lu Maw Naing has been picked up by Pauk Township Police’s superintendent for questioning over the report on the chemical plant in Pauk,” said Tint San, adding that government authorities across the country have seized copies of the journal.

“They also came to our office and took away copies of the issue.”

Lwin Lwin, Lu Maw Naing’s wife, told DVB on Saturday her husband had been charged for leaking government secrets, which carries severe penalties and can possibly result in a death sentence.

She also said Lu Maw Naing had been transferred from the police station, his whereabouts still unknown.

Zaw Thet Htwe of the Interim Myanmar Press Council condemned the arrests, suggesting they were a sign of still-looming threats to media freedom.

“This clearly showed that there is still no guarantee for press freedom in the country, and that media workers are constantly under threat,” said Zaw Thet Htwe.

“Arresting reporters like this is an appalling sight for the media,” he said. “According to legal procedures, the reporter should be summoned to a court to hear charges and has a right to defend himself. But taking him out of sight like this without even notifying the family of his whereabouts is clearly an indirect threat to the press and news reporters.”


Myanmar Leaders Bank on Political Dialogue For Ending Ethnic Conflict

Aung San Su Kyi (R) and leaders of armed ethnic groups pose after a meeting at her residence in Yangon, Nov. 25, 2013 AFP
Myanmar President Thein Sein's top peace negotiator and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi have underlined the importance of political dialogue between the government and armed ethnic groups on conclusion of a proposed nationwide cease-fire agreement in March, saying it would be a major test for peace and democracy in the country.

Minister Aung Min, the government's chief negotiator, say they hope the political dialogue process to be launched "within a couple of months" after the signing of the cease-fire agreement in March will lead to a durable peace that has been elusive for decades.

"The political dialogue can result in permanent peace," Aung Min told RFA's Myanmar Service on Thursday from Thailand's northern city of Chiang Mai, where he had discussed with armed ethnic groups over a draft cease-fire agreement. "Without political dialogue, democracy will not prevail in Myanmar."

"Only when we achieve permanent peace can we have a fully democratic state which many have been clamoring for," he said, stressing that a nationwide cease-fire agreement is within reach.

"The developments taking place towards a cease-fire agreement are positive."

Aung Min's meeting with armed ethnic groups included those who signed a draft framework for a nationwide cease-fire at the end of their talks last week in Laywa in southeastern Myanmar’s Kayin (Karen) state.

Crucial period

Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi said a crucial period in the process to forge peace between the government and the ethnic groups would come after they sign the cease-fire agreement and get down to talks on meeting the groups' political demands.

"Political agreements [between the ethnic groups and the government] are more important and more lasting than a cease-fire agreement, which can be shattered anytime," she told RFA's Myanmar Service's “Hard Road To Democracy” exclusive bi-weekly program.

Thein Sein’s government has signed cease-fire agreements with several ethnic rebel groups since being elected to power in 2011, and is racing to forge a standard pact covering all groups as part of a bid to speed up reforms after nearly 50 years of military rule.

In addition to forming a federal union, ethnic rebels hope that political dialogue with the government will provide their groups with greater autonomy in rapidly reforming Myanmar. One of the contentious demands by the groups is for an all-inclusive federal army.


Aung San Suu Kyu said the political dialogue process should be based on "sincerity" and "compromise" and attended by all ethnic groups.

"What is very important is that all concerned parties or individuals should be involved in the political discussions," said Aung San Suu Kyi, who is leader of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD).

She said she had been informed that she would be invited for the final round of negotiations in Hpa-An in Kayin state between the government and the ethnic groups in March before the signing of the cease-fire agreement in the capital Naypyidaw..

"I have been informed that they will invite me but I have not received the official invitation," she said. Government sources confirmed that she would be invited for the Hpa-An talks.

The Myanmar government had wanted all of the rebel groups to sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement at a joint ceremony in Naypyidaw way back in July last year, but the event has been postponed several times.

Shan group agrees to sign

Minister Aung Min said that the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), among a handful of groups that did not participate in the Ethnic Armed Organizations Conference attended by 17 groups in Laywa in Kayin state last week, has agreed in principle to sign the nationwide cease-fire agreement.

He said the assurance was given by SSA-S leader Lt. Gen.Yawd Serk, who is also head of its political wing, the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS).

"The major point we discussed today is how to collaborate together [for the implementation of the nationwide cease-fire agreement). Sai La, spokesman of RCSS/SSA-S), told RFA.

According to Hla Maung Shwe, special adviser to the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), the government intends to hold the nationwide cease-fire agreement signing ceremony in the third or last week of March in the capital Naypyidaw.

The government will invite representatives of the international community, including leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN),  and leaders of local political parties to witness the agreement signing, he said.

Reported by Khin Maung Soe and Aung Moe Myint for RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Soe and Khet Mar. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.

Majority of Myanmar Parties, Other Groups Back Charter Changes

Military representatives attend a parliamentary session in Naypyidaw, Aug. 16, 2013.AFP

A majority of political parties, civil societies, government institutions—including the military—and legal experts have submitted proposals to a parliamentary panel saying they back amendments to the country’s constitution, lawmakers said Friday.

They said the 109-member committee received more than 28,000 letters of suggestions from the various groups, with a majority supporting changes to the charter, which was written by the previous military junta and bars opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president.  

The panel, which was set up by the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP)-dominated parliament six months ago to receive public feedback on the constitutional changes, submitted the proposals to parliament on Friday in line with the deadline set by the legislature.

“Now it is in the hands of members of parliament, who will decide whether to amend the constitution or not,” Zaw Myint Maung, an MP from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party and who is among the committee’s members, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“Most of the 28,000-odd suggestions by the groups wanted amendments to the constitution,” he said. “This is very clear.”

Zaw Myint Maung said a controversy arose in parliament after it was discovered that USDP members from the party’s 18 townships in Yangon had sent more than 100,000 letters to the committee saying they were against amendments to key provisions of the 2008 military-written constitution.

They were against amending provisions which barred Aung San Suu Kyi from making a bid for the presidency in the 2015 elections as well as those which ensure the military’s continued role in politics and block constitutional changes without military approval, he said.

“It was something like a signature campaign,” he said. “One of the NLD MPs told parliament that the NLD was a more popular party and could have got much more letters of support for constitutional amendments and dumped them to the committee.”

No power to evaluate proposals

The committee’s mandate was to accept the proposals and present them to parliament for a decision.

Pe Than, an MP for the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), stressed that the submissions were only recommendations and had no bearing on whether parliament will decide to amend the charter.

“The committee has no power to make a decision. Making a decision is parliament’s job,” he said.

But he said that the larger representation of USDP and military legislators in parliament could influence how the decision is made.

“We have a much larger number of MPs from the USDP and military in parliament than from other parties,” he said.

“Those MPs’ decisions will be important when parliament decides which articles to amend.”

A constitutional amendment requires at least 75 percent approval in parliament before it is put to a national referendum, but together, the military and the USDP control more than 80 percent of legislative seats.

“It is not easy for the opposition to push for amending the constitution with more than 75 percent of the legislature controlled by the USDP and military,” Zaw Myint Maung said. “But we have to try very hard.”

Parliament on Friday formed a committee consisting of 41 legislators to examine the proposed changes to the constitution.


The 194-page, 15-chapter Republic of the Union of Myanmar Constitution was adopted by the previous military government in May 2008. President Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government took power in 2011 and has since announced wide-ranging political and economic reforms.

One provision bars anyone whose children have foreign citizenship from becoming president. Aung San Suu Kyi's late husband was a British academic and her two adult children have British citizenship.

While many see an amendment to the provision as critical for the 2015 elections to be considered free and fair, they fear the USDP and the military are not totally committed to bring about the change.

Some are of the view that even if the leaders are committed, time may not be on their side.

"Getting the constitution amended before the 2015 election would be a great step forward, but it requires a nationwide referendum and there may not be enough time left to reach a consensus on the amendments and hold the referendum," Lex Rieffel, a nonresident fellow at Washington-based Brookings Institution, said in a recent commentary.

Earlier this month, Aung San Suu Kyi traveled through Myanmar to promote changes to the charter, drawing overwhelming support from crowds in the country’s remote ethnic regions.

Ethnic-based political parties in Myanmar and armed rebel groups negotiating cease-fire agreements with the government have also called for amendments that allow ethnic groups and states greater autonomy.

Reported by Nay Rein Kyaw, Myo Thant Khine, Zin Mar Win and Thin Thiri. Translated by Khin Maung Soe and Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


U Ohn Myint

U Ohn Myint

Report Hints of Strength of Anti-Reform Sentiment in Myanmar

Aung San Suu Kyi delivered a speech during the 66th Independence day ceremony at the National League for Democracy headquarters in Yangon on Jan. 4. European Pressphoto Agency
By Shibani Mahtani and Myo Myo

YANGON, Myanmar—A committee looking at potential changes to Myanmar's Constitution says most people who weighed in don't want to alter the clause that prevents opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from assuming the presidency.

An overwhelming number of letters sent in also resisted changing a section of the document that reserves 25% of parliamentary seats for Myanmar's military, underscoring that anti-reformist sentiments still run deep among some stakeholders.

The election is in late 2015, and it remains unclear how the Parliament might act on any constitutional changes—or in what time frame—determining Ms. Suu Kyi's political fate.

This initial report, released to Parliament on Friday, isn't binding nor a formal recommendation. Rather, the 109-member committee was tasked to collect letters of suggestions from political parties, civil society groups and the public on what should be amended, and then present these ideas to Myanmar's lawmakers.

It is unclear what influence—if any—this initial report might have on lawmakers.

But analysts see the signatories as yet another hurdle in Ms. Suu Kyi's political ambitions, and a sign that voices against sweeping changes in Myanmar are willing to make their opinions heard.

The committee will deliver a formal report at an unspecified time to a separate parliamentary panel, providing more specific recommendations and analysis on changes to the Constitution.

More than 28,000 letters were received, sent in by myriad stakeholders including those from political parties, Myanmar's military, nongovernmental organizations and legal experts.

Of these letters, a petition was submitted to the committee—with more than 106,000 signatories—calling for the government not to amend the most contentious articles in the document, one preventing anyone with foreign family members from assuming the presidency or vice-presidency, and another ensuring the military's role in politics.

Myanmar's Constitution, drafted in 2008 by the then-military government, likely included the clause on presidential qualifications—article 59f, also known as the "Suu Kyi clause"--with the opposition leader in mind. Ms. Suu Kyi, who was married to a British national and has two foreign sons, is widely revered and considered the strongest presidential candidate, should she be cleared to run for the post.

Ms. Suu Kyi, who has recently traveled across Myanmar to Chin, Shan and Karen states, has made constitutional change the priority of her party. Her calls have also received significant backing outside Myanmar's borders, with governments including the U.S. and U.K. indicating that constitutional reform—where all potential candidates are allowed to run—is a prerequisite for their continued support of the Southeast Asian country.

Representatives from Ms. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party on Sunday dismissed the letters, contending they reflected an organized government movement.

"There were no reasons given as to why they want to keep article 59f, only signatures," said Zaw Myint Oo, a NLD member of Parliament who sits on the committee looking at constitutional reform. "The process has no transparency—if our party chairman, Aung San Suu Kyi, went on similar campaigns, we can get more signatures to change this section."

Fort Wayne refugees from Myanmar worried about policy changes

Associated Press, .

FORT WAYNE, Ind. – An advocate for Myanmar refugees in Fort Wayne says she’s worried that a change in U.S. policy will hurt efforts to reunite them with relatives living in the city.

Fort Wayne is home to more than 4,000 refugees from Myanmar — formerly known as Burma — making it host to one of the largest such communities in the country.

Burmese Advocacy Center leader Minn Myint Nan Tin said she’s concerned about the State Department’s decision to stop accepting resettlement applications from Myanmar refugees living in nine camps in Thailand.

“I wish that there is still a hope for ongoing family reunification process,” she said.

She said two people recently asked the center for help in bringing relatives to the United States, including a woman with three sons who’ve spent six years in refugee camps.

State Department spokeswoman Christine Getzler Vaughan said resettlements won’t stop just because applications have been halted.

Myanmar refugees began coming to Fort Wayne in 1993 to escape military rule in the southeast Asian country. The biggest waves came in 2007 and 2008, when Catholic Charities of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese resettled more than 1,400 refugees in the city.

The Jan. 24 end to the applications came after the State Department began issuing deadlines a year ago for refugees to decide whether they wanted to leave the Thai camps for the United States as part of a resettlement program that began in 2005.

“The resettlement program will continue until we have completed the processing of every application received by the deadline for each camp, and we expect that to happen over the next two years,” Vaughan said.

The State Department also will consider resettling people from Myanmar “with specific protection needs” who are referred by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, she said.

The State Department has approved relocating as many as 170 refugees to the Fort Wayne area during the 2014 fiscal year, the same number as the previous year, she said.

The U.N. estimates that 120,000 Myanmar refugees remain in camps along the Thai-Myanmar border. The U.N. reported this week that nearly 6,500 expressed interest in the past year in resettling to the U.S.

Thura U Aung Ko on 2008 Constitution Amendment

Thura U Aung Ko on 2008 Constitution Amendment

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