- Burmese Army begin major offensive in Shan State
- Burma army targets ethnic women
- Burmese government wants to limit cease-fire negotiates
- Govt planning to change exchange rate
- UN chief praises Burma talks, urges more
- Myanmar must consider release of political
- Myanmar’s Suu Kyi holds rare talks with minister
- Activists warn against foreign investors in
- War trumps investment in Myanmar
- Canada opens relations with Burma, sanctions
- Burma at a crossroads: an analysis of state
- Myanmar currency crunch cripples exporters, risks
- USDP to grant Rangoon residents loans; total 10 billion
- Despite gold price rise globally, Burmese traders can
not increase price
- Myanmarese in India displeased with Delhi supplying arms
to Burmese military
- War Office sets out ambitious army plan
- Burma Army’s War against Shan: Licence to Rape plus
Licence to Commit Genocide?
- Myanmar, Germany to cooperate in upgrading ports,
- Myanmar’s Suu Kyi leads memorial march for father
- Journalists warned on exile contacts
- Critical report on China-backed dam smothered
- Gems auction nets $1.5 billion for Myanmar despite US
- India trying to woo Myanmar from China
- Myanmar invites partners for 18 onshore oil
- At the mercy of Burmese ‘law’, Suu Kyi must play a wise
Burmese Army begin major offensive in Shan
State – Ko Htwe
Irrawaddy: Tue 26 Jul 2011
government troops have launched a major offensive against the headquarters of
the Shan State Army (SSA) in Wan Hai in a bid to dominate a strategically
important junction connecting northern and southern Shan State, according to
“They are attacking us in order to militarily dominate the
area. They want to use our camp as a base from which they can launch an
offensive against the United Wa State Army (UWSA) in the future,” said Maj Sai
Hla, a spokesman for the SSA and its political wing, the Shan State Progressive
Wan Hai, located between Kyethi, Monghsu and Mongnaung townships,
is an important transport hub in central Shan State. The SSA—a former ceasefire
group known until recently as the SSA-North—controls territory in Kyethi and
Monghsu townships in southern Shan State and Mongyai and Tangyan townships in
the northern part of the state.
According to local residents, the motive
for the recent attacks may be commercial as well as military: there are coal
mines in Kyethi and the SSA extracts antimony near Wan Hai—both of which the
government would like to control.
However, some observers said it was
unlikely that the fighting was directly linked to a struggle for control of
“It is possible that the government wants to extract
natural resources from the area, but I haven’t heard that they have discovered
any precious metal there,” said Khuensai Jaiyen, the editor of the
Thailand-based Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN).
The situation in Shan
State contrasts with that in Kachin State, where the government is seeking to
negotiate an end to hostilities with the Kachin Independence Army
“I asked officials why the government has launched continuous
attacks on the SSA rather than negotiating, as it is doing with the KIA, and I
was told that the government thinks it can easily break the SSA because Wan Hai
is not near the border, and because some of the SSA’s brigades have already
joined the Border Guard Force (BGF),” said a member of the Shan Nationalities
Development Party from Kyethi Township.
Two brigades of the former
SSA-North have joined the BGF, which puts troops belonging to former ceasefire
militias under Burmese military command, but the strongest, the 3,000-strong
Brigade 1, led by Col Pang Fa, refused.
The Burmese regime began pushing
17 different ceasefire groups to join the BGF ahead of last year’s Nov. 7
election, but most refused, including the UWSA, with 30,000 troops, and the
The UWSA and the Shan State Army-South, a
non-ceasefire armed group, have offered support to the SSA since it resumed
hostilities with the Burmese Army.
Htay Aung, a Burmese military
researcher, said that the government army would likely concentrate its attacks
on the SSA and KIA Brigade 4, which occupy areas between the Burmese Army’s
positions and the UWSA, while continuing to negotiate with stronger
“The negotiations will only last for a while, but I don’t think
they will bring an end to this civil war. The government cannot attack the UWSA
right now because of its strength, so they are going after their weaker allies.
But ultimately, these attacks threaten the UWSA, too,” he said.
Burma army targets ethnic women – Nan Paw
Kachin Information Center: Tue 26 Jul 2011
this week from Kachin and Shan States confirm rape is still being used as a
tactic by the Burma Army to demoralise and terrorise ethnic
Shirley Seng, a spokeswomen working with the Kachin Women’s
Association Thailand, told Karen News that since June 9, Burma army soldiers
have raped 32 women.
“No woman is safe from these soldiers. In the last
six weeks 32 women and girls in Kachin State have been raped – 13 of those were
Other ethnic women groups confirm the rapes are not only
happening in Kachin but accuse the Burma Army of using sexual violence as a
systematic weapon against ethnic people in Mon, Shan, Chin and Karen
Charm Tong from the Shan Women’s Action Network says her groups
have been documenting the abuse against women for decades and says age is no
deterrent…young, old, or pregnant.
Charm Tong describes how earlier this
month a Burma army patrol from Light Infantry Battalion 513 robbed a Shan
village and raped four women and girls.
“The youngest, Nang Mon, 12, was
raped in front of her mother who was beaten when she tried to protect her
daughter. Villagers could do nothing. Nang Lord who was due to give birth, was
thrown on the ground and raped. Nang Poeng was caught outside the village,
beaten, stripped and raped.”
The rape of ethnic women in Burma is well
documented by international human rights organizations, regional community
groups and the United Nations.
In late May, in a statement to
journalists, at the Bangkok based Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, the
Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, Tomas Quintana,
highlighted the Burma army’s involvement.
contributes to human rights abuses. These abuses include land confiscation,
forced labor, internal displacement, extrajudicial killings and sexual
Charm Tong takes and says foreign investment plays a huge part
in the militarization of ethnic regions.
“Northern Shan State is of
crucial importance, the [Burma] army is trying to secure the area for major
Chinese investments, including hydropower dam sites and transnational gas and
oil pipelines. The Burma army now has a quarter of their battalions based there.
Where there are pipelines, dams, timber and other natural resources there are
well-documented cases of abuse of local people. ”
Charm Tong says foreign
governments and investors working in Burma need to speak out about the
‘Business as usual means ongoing rape for women and girls in
Naw Blooming Night Zan, joint secretary of the Karen
Women’s Organisation, in an interview with Karen News said.
army uses rape as a weapon against ethnic women. The Burma army tortures ethnic
people as if they have a licence to do so and they are never held responsible
for their actions. They have a new government, but it is only a veneer,
underneath the surface it is still the same policies of the military.”
February 2010, the Karen Women Organisation published a report, Sharp Knives,
based on the testimonies of 95 women chiefs. The report explains that women are
replacing men as village chiefs because men “are more likely to be killed by the
The report points out that the reason women became chiefs was
that “men were reluctant to risk their lives as chiefs, women stepped in to
assume leadership in the hope of mitigating abuses.”
The 95 testimonies
of the women chiefs in the report proved that were not to be the case – they
faced constant threats, systematic abuse and sexual violence from the Burma
The testimonies are harrowing. A women chief tells how she was punished
by the soldiers for running away when her village was attacked – in retaliation
the soldiers gang-raped her 15-year-old daughter.
In February 2007 the
Karen Women Organisation released another report, State of Terror, based on
4,000 documented cases of human rights abuses by the Burma army. The report
stated that, “rape has been, and continues to be used as a method of torture to
intimidate and humiliate the civilian populations, particularly those in ethnic
As in reports by other organisations, KWO found that “many of
the rapes are perpetrated by senior military officers or done with their
The contents of the report cite cases 57 and 58 were two
23-year-old women were repeatedly raped vaginally and orally by a soldier under
the command of Major Pone Tint in Dooplaya District. “If we didn’t do it he
would shoot us dead.”
Case 43 – “After raping her they killed her by
shooting into her vagina, no action was taken [against the rapist].”
Women’s League of Burma in a 2006 paper titled, War Crimes in Burma, reported
that the Burma army was targeting women for rape and various forms of sexual
“Rape is being used by the regime’s army as a strategy of war
against different ethnic groups, to attack them, humiliate them and demoralize
them, in order to establish control over their land and resources.”
Tong says there is too much evidence for Asean, the UN and the international
community to keep ignoring that Burma’s human rights abuses are linked to
“Asean and the UN Security Council’s inaction are
letting the rapes and crimes against the Burmese people go on and on. They need
to do something like they have in many other places like Libya, Bosnia and
Burmese government wants to limit cease-fire
negotiates to KIO
Mizzima News: Tue 26 Jul 2011
Mai– The KIO, a member of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an
ethnic group alliance, has offered to stop fighting if the government will start
negotiations for a nationwide cease-fire, but Burmese authorities said no deal
in a recent e-mail, according to La Nang, a spokesman for the Kachin
Independence Organization (KIO).
“They said that they would negotiate
cease-fire in Kachin State first. Then in accordance with the example of Kachin
State, they would try to achieve a cease-fire in other states,” La Nang
The UNFC comprises the Karen National Union, New Mon State Party,
Chin National Front, Kachin Independence Organization and Karenni National
According to sources close to Naypyitaw, there have
been no discussions about the recent clashes in Kachin, Karen and Shan
Meanwhile, rumours are circulating that MP Hkyet Hting Nan of the
Unity and Democracy Party of Kachin State (UDPKS) and MP Hka Mai Tang of the
ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party are talking to leaders from the
Kachin Culture Group in Kachin State to work as mediators to negotiate a
cease-fire with the KIO. However, MP Hkyet Hting Nan denied the
“It’s not true. But, I met with Hka Mai Tang recently three or
four times. But we met just to exchange presents,” Hkyet Hting Nan said. He said
he visited war refugees in Waimaw Township on Tuesday and donated
He said that the UDPKS party has donated rice, cooking oil, salt,
mosquito nets and stationery to refugees with a total value of 2.5 million kyat
(about US$ 3,000).
Govt planning to change exchange
Irrawaddy: Tue 26 Jul 2011
Rangoon — Burma’s Finance
and Revenue Minister Hla Tun has told the country’s business leaders that the
new government will change the official exchange rate of the national currency,
which is currently set at around six kyat to the dollar.
“In the case of
trading and exchanging foreign currencies, we are discussing ways to identify a
a stable exchange rate that can positively affect the country,” Hla Tun
reportedly said at a ministry meeting in Naypyidaw on Friday.
to a high-ranking member of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of
Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) who spoke on condition of anonymity, the
government also sought the views of businessmen on the subject of changing the
official exchange rate.
He added that the government routinely calls
leading businessmen when it wants advice on economic issues, but doesn’t always
follow through with implementing recommended changes.
The exchange rate
has been a major source of concern for Burma’s business community in recent
months, as the kyat continues to climb against the US dollar in the unofficial
exchange market, where the dollar now fetches just 790 kyat, compared with more
than 1,000 kyat at the start of the year.
A seafood exporter said that
the new exchange rate should be set at around 900-1,000 kyat to the
“Whenever there is a meeting or workshop, sea and marine products
exporters propose an increase in the value of foreign currencies. If the current
exchange rate doesn’t change, there won’t be any improvement for our industry,”
Although the official exchange rate looks set to change, the
fate of the country’s Foreign Exchange Certificate (FEC) remains unclear, as do
regulations governing foreign currency holdings, said a member of the UMFCCI’s
Central Executive Committee.
“We don’t know what will happen to the FEC
and the holding of foreign currency, but we heard that if the government changes
the exchange rate, private banks will be allowed to exchange and trade
currencies,” he said.
A local economic analyst said that the country’s
economy will improve if the government further reduces taxes after changing the
official exchange rate.
In response to the impact of the rising kyat, the
government recently moved to cut export taxes from 10 to 7 percent, but with
little effect, according to businessmen.
The government should also
control the foreign exchange black market and other illegal businesses, said the
economic analyst. Action should be taken against officials who take bribes and
ignore illegal businesses, he added.
UN chief praises Burma talks, urges
Agence France Presse: Tue 26 Jul 2011
General Ban Ki-moon on Monday praised Burma’s talks with opposition icon Aung
San Suu Kyi and voiced hope that the government would take further steps
including freeing prisoners.
Ban “welcomes” the talks between Suu Kyi and
Labour Minister Aung Kyi and “encourages such contacts and dialogue,” a UN
“In line with the international community’s expectations
and Myanmar’s [Burma] national interest, the secretary-general hopes such
efforts will continue with a view to building mutual understanding through
genuine dialogue,” it said.
“He also calls upon the government of Myanmar
to consider early action on the release of political prisoners in that country,”
it said. Human rights groups say some 2,000 political prisoners remain in
Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, was freed in November after
spending most of the previous two decades under house arrest. The talks Monday
with Aung Kyi were the first since Burma formed a new government following
Most Western nations and the opposition were sharply critical
of the election, viewing the polls as a charade by military leaders to stay in
power while officially handing power to civilians.
Plans for the meeting
with Suu Kyi emerged on Saturday, the same day that US Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton urged Burma’s rulers to have “meaningful and inclusive dialogue”
with the opposition.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria
Nuland reiterated Clinton’s call for Burma to meet with Suu Kyi in a way “where
she can have influence on the future of her country.”
“I can’t speak to
this specific meeting, but those are the steps that we want to see. And we want
to make sure, also, that the Burmese government is taking great care with her
security,” Nuland said.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won 1990
elections but was never allowed to take power. She avoided making public
speeches during a recent four-day tour outside of the commercial capital Rangon
during which plain-clothes police trailed her but did not hinder her
Myanmar must consider release of political
United Nations: Tue 26 Jul 2011
Ban calls on
Myanmar to consider ‘early action’ on release of political prisoners
York- Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today welcomed a meeting between Nobel Peace
Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi and a Myanmar Government minister, and urged the
Government to consider release of political prisoners, according to a statement
issued by a spokesperson.
“The Secretary-General welcomes the meeting
today in Yangon between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Minister for Social Welfare U
Aung Kyi,” it said. “He notes that the parties have expressed satisfaction at
their positive talks and their intention to cooperate further on matters
beneficial to the people of Myanmar.”
“In line with the international
community’s expectations and Myanmar’s national interest, the Secretary-General
hopes such efforts will continue with a view to building mutual understanding
through genuine dialogue. He also calls upon the Government of Myanmar to
consider early action on the release of political prisoners in that country,” it
Vijay Nambiar, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Myanmar,
visited the country earlier in the year, spoke with Government officials, met
with Ms. Suu Kyi and reported to the security council that although he welcomed
some recent releases of political prisoners, he “reiterated the UN’s call for
the urgent release of all political prisoners,” a UN spokesperson said at the
While the initial sentence reductions and resulting release of some
political prisoners is a small step in the right direction, it has been short of
expectation and is insufficient, he said.
Last month Ms. Suu Kyi called
on the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) to expand its
activities in Myanmar and help promote social justice there.
In a video
message to the International Labour Conference of the ILO in Geneva she said:
“In its attempt to eliminate forced labour and the recruitment of child
soldiers, the ILO has inevitably been drawn into work related to rule of law,
prisoners of conscience and freedom of association.”
Ms. Suu Kyi, an
opposition leader put under house arrest for almost 15 years, was released on 13
November last year.
* For more details go to UN News Centre at http://www.un.org/news
Myanmar’s Suu Kyi holds rare talks with
minister – Aung Hla Tun
Reuters: Mon 25 Jul 2011
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi held a rare meeting with a government
minister on Monday, raising the prospect of a thaw in relations between the
Nobel Peace laureate and the country’s new military-backed
Suu Kyi, who was only told of the meeting on Sunday, talked
for just over an hour with Labour Minister Aung Kyi in what was the first known
contact between the 66-year-old and a member of the new, nominally civilian
In a joint statement, both parties said they were positive
and satisfied with the meeting, in which they had discussed issues that would be
of benefit to Myanmar’s people.
Suu Kyi, the figurehead of the fight
against military dictatorship in Myanmar, already knew Aung Kyi, having met him
on nine occasions since 2007 while she was in detention and he was a minister
liaising between her and the junta.
Aung Kyi dismissed suggestions those
meetings were a waste of time and said he hoped for further dialogue with Suu
“There were some benefits from previous meetings and we expect
better results from these talks,” he told reporters.
“You can say this
meeting is the first step of a series of things on which we intend to cooperate
“Discussions were focussed on possibilities for cooperating in
the interests of the people,” he said. “This included the rule of law and
overcoming disunity, and matters that will benefit the public.”
welcomed the meeting but said a lot hinged on the two parties ensuring talks did
not break down.
“We hope to see some good results out of this,” said an
Asian diplomat. “Otherwise, the situation will be back to square
SIGNS OF PROGRESS
A new government took office in April,
ending 49 years of direct military rule over the former British colony. Since
her release from seven years of house arrest last November, Suu Kyi has made
repeated calls for dialogue with the new rulers.
Nyan Win, a spokesman
for the National League for Democracy (NLD), Suu Kyi’s active but officially
disbanded party, said the political climate had changed and the government’s
invitation to Suu Kyi indicated some progress.
Suu Kyi has been careful
not to antagonise the government since her release and did not criticise a
November 7 election regarded at home and abroad as a sham that ensured the same
regime stayed in power behind a veneer of democracy.
The government and
military appear to have backed off from their tough stance towards Suu Kyi,
occasionally criticising her in state-run media but allowing her freedom to
travel and meet with diplomats, journalists and supporters.
the government knows any move against Suu Kyi would upset the international
community and rule out the possibility of sanctions being lifted in the near
Dialogue with Suu Kyi could be an attempt by Myanmar’s reclusive
leaders, many of them former military officers, to show foreign governments they
are ready to engage.
But as is normal in Myanmar, no one quite seems
“The timing of is very interesting,” said one European diplomat.
“Why did they decide to meet her at this time?”
Christopher Roberts, a
Southeast Asia specialist at Australian National University, said the meeting
was probably more than a publicity stunt.
“It comes as part of a
collective pattern of behaviour by the government that has potential for
incremental improvements,” he said.
“Myanmar is trying to build a system
and image of a real government and I think it wants to normalise things. Not
only have its leaders met U.S., Australian and U.N. representatives, they’ve
allowed them to meet Suu Kyi, too.
“It will do these things, as long as
they don’t undermine security or stability,” Roberts added.
and additional reporting by Martin Petty; Editing by Sugita Katyal)
Activists warn against foreign investors in
Agence France Presse: Mon 25 Jul 2011
Environmental groups called on Monday for an end to foreign investment
in projects exploiting Myanmar’s natural resources, accusing such activities of
sparking conflict in ethnic minority areas.
While foreign direct
investment has “skyrocketed”, for example through large dams financed by
neighbouring China, India and Thailand, there are no decent frameworks to
protect Myanmar’s environment and communities, they said.
is “concentrated in energy and extractive sectors and often results in
militarization and displacement,” said a new report from the Burma Environmental
Working Group (BEWG), a network of activist organisations.
natural resources is a major cause of conflict in ethnic areas, where the
majority of Burma’s resources remain,” the report said, using the former name of
Heavy fighting between the rebel ethnic Kachin and Myanmar’s
state army took place last month in the far north of the country around a dam
financed by China, with authorities saying they acted to defend the plant from
“The renewed war in Kachin state is an example of what Burma can
continue to expect as foreign direct investment increases,” said Paul Sein Twa
of the BEWG.
The group’s report said an estimated 48 hydropower projects
were currently being planned, constructed or already existed on Myanmar’s
But up to 90 percent of the power they generate is destined for
other countries, “instead of supplying local populations who face serious
ongoing energy shortages”.
The activists called for new and existing
investment in sectors that exploit the environment to cease, until the new
measures are brought in to ensure sustainable development and multi-ethnic
The new government under President Thein Sein “is failing
to make progress on that front,” said Paul Sein Twa.
junta handed power to a nominally-civilian administration earlier this year
after elections in November, which the army’s political proxies won by a
landslide amid allegations of cheating.
The country has been plagued by
decades of civil war with armed ethnic minority militias since independence in
War trumps investment in Myanmar – Simon
Asia Times: Mon 25 Jul 2011
Bangkok – Myanmar’s
longest-standing ethnic minority militia, the Karen National Liberation Army
(KNLA), has forced a halt to the construction of a key roadway link to the US$8
billion Dawei port and industrial estate mega-project. The blockage comes amid
recently intensified fighting between government forces and insurgent groups in
areas scheduled for massive foreign investment initiatives.
Thai-financed Dawei project, which is scheduled to begin groundbreaking in 2012
and take four years to complete, aims to jump-start Myanmar’s moribund
industrial sector through better integration with Thailand’s more developed
economy and infrastructure. It also aims to leverage into fast growing trade and
investment enabled by the recently enacted China-Association of Southeast Asian
Nations (ASEAN) free trade agreement and to which Thailand has major regional
According to Karen News, an ethnic media group which first
broke the story last week, an unnamed KNLA commander said that Karen villagers
have been adversely affected by the 160-kilometer road which will run from Tavoy
on Myanmar’s west coast to the Thai border through Kanchanaburi province where
it will link to Thailand’s existing road network. Myanmar has some of the
region’s poorest road infrastructure.
Asked by Asia Times Online about
the stand-off between the KNLA and Italian-Thai Development Company, the
Thailand-based conglomerate that won the right to develop the
250-square-kilometer Tavoy project, Karen National Union (KNU) secretary-general
Naw Zipporah Sein would only confirm that negotiations have been taking place
since July 16 but would not elaborate on details. The KNU is the political party
linked to the KNLA.
Saw Ehan, a journalist with Karen News
(www.karennews.org), told Asia Times Online that at least 2,000 households
comprised of ethnic Burman and Karen families have been told that they will have
to leave their homes to make way for the now-contentious roadway. “Villagers are
awaiting compensation for this and have been told they have to move. But they do
not when they have to go or where they will go,” he said. “Some people are
excited by the roadway but these are not the people being forced to move
A Bangkok-based spokesperson for Ital-Thai Development told Asia
Times Online on Monday that the company is currently “doing a survey of the area
around the project, to determine who the affected people are” and said that
compensation arrangements would be implemented once the survey is complete. The
spokesperson also played down the apparent stand-off between the company and
KNLA, saying that ITD believes that “everything will go head as
Land around the highway has apparently been sold by the Myanmar
government to private investors close to the country’s military-dominated
political elite. As the newly elected government moves to reform the economy,
including through privatization of state-held assets, land rights are a legally
The news of the KNLA’s blockage of road works marks the
latest controversy surrounding major foreign investment projects in Myanmar,
which formally ended decades of military rule in March by inaugurating a
nominally civilian government. Prime Minister Thein Sein’s “civilian”
administration is dominated by former military officials.
Prior to that
transition, on January 20, 2011, the Myanmar government enacted a China-style
“Dawei Special Economic Zone” law. The law promises tax breaks for investing
companies, fast-tracking of work and trade permits, and a pledge from the
Myanmar authorities not to nationalize any industry or project established in
the Dawei SEZ. Consulting firm Baker & McKenzie wrote that the law “seeks to
encourage increased foreign investment to the country by offering a series of
incentives and promises of stability”.
Political stability in Myanmar’s
ethnic regions is far from assured, with fighting between the Tatmadaw, the name
for the country’s armed forces, and various ethnic militias intensifying since
the country’s parliamentary election on November 7, 2010. Many Karen-populated
areas close to the Thailand-Myanmar border are also heavily mined, and the
Myanmar army and KNLA clash regularly in the area close to the new highway,
according to Karen researchers. It is a situation complicated by intra-Karen
rivalries, with some Karen fighters working and fighting alongside the
Foreign investment-linked fighting is not confined to Karen
regions, however. In Myanmar’s northern Kachin state, the Tatmadaw has been
battling the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) since June 9, breaking the terms of
a 1994 ceasefire. Casualty numbers are unknown but Kachin diaspora groups in
Thailand say that 16,000 people have recently been displaced by the fighting in
Kachin and in northern Shan state.
Myanmar’s government has repeatedly
demanded that the country’s armed ethnic militias merge with the Tatmadaw under
a so-called Border Guard Force. However, almost all of the country’s more
powerful non-state armed groups have rejected the proposal. The Myanmar
government has argued in support of the program that ethnic groups’ political
aspirations can be addressed via new mechanisms created as part of the country’s
transition from military rule, including the establishment of regional
The fighting in Kachin territory has been complicated by
China-backed investment projects, including the proposed dam and hydropower
plant near Myitsone as well as eight other Chinese-funded dams in the region.
All told there are 25 “mega-dam” projects in place or being planned for
Myanmar’s ethnic minority borderlands, according to the Burma Environmental
Working Group. The watchdog group claims that 90% of the electricity generated
will be sold abroad, earning the Myanmar government an estimated US$4 billion
A 2,800 kilometer-long oil and gas pipeline corridor is being
built from Myanmar’s western coast to China’s southern Yunnan province that is
designed to cut through Kachin State territory. The pipelines will enable China
to pipe gas from Myanmar’s offshore Shwe Gas Field while a Chinese-built port on
Myanmar’s west coast will serve as a drop-off point for some of China’s oil and
gas shipments coming from Africa and the Middle East.
Some analysts doubt
whether the recent upsurge in fighting inside Myanmar is being driven solely by
the border guard issue. Some of the heaviest fighting in Karen State in recent
years took place near the border town of Myawaddy on the day of last year’s
parliamentary elections. The upsurge in fighting came just five days after
Italian-Thai Development and Myanmar’s central government signed the
multi-billion dollar Dawei deal. Over 30,000 refugees fled into Thailand as a
consequence, though most of these were swiftly repatriated by Thai
Naw La, a researcher with the Kachin Development Networking
Group, an advocacy group, says some of his family members have been driven from
their homes during the recent Tatmadaw-KIA fighting. Speaking at a press
conference in Bangkok on Monday, he said that “the KIO sent letters to China and
to the Naypyidaw government, objecting to [the] Myitsone [dam] and saying that
if the dam is not stopped then civil war will ensue”. He said that the KIO is
opposed to the dam as “most of the electricity will be sold to China with no
benefit for local people, and local people were not consulted at all during the
planning of this project”.
The government’s heavy-handed approach to
establishing security in commercially-important ethnic minority regions could
yet undermine several big ticket foreign investments. Italian-Thai Development
and Naypyidaw are hopeful that investors from Thailand and elsewhere will
establish facilities at Dawei, although recent signals from some of Thailand’s
corporate heavy-hitters, including energy giant PTT, have been cautious due to
PTT company advisor Chainoi Puankosoom was quoted in
the Bangkok Post on June 26 saying that “investment risks are normal but I think
the private sector needs some kind of guarantee that their investments in Dawei
* Simon Roughneen is a foreign correspondent. His website
Canada opens relations with Burma, sanctions
The Canadian Press: Mon 25 Jul 2011
Canada has begun a strategic engagement with Myanmar that includes an exchange
of ambassadors, but Ottawa has no plans to lift the economic sanctions imposed
against the country anytime soon, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said
Baird, speaking from Bali, Indonesia, where he attended a
regional security forum this week, said the “limited engagement” was focused
exclusively on human rights.
He said he raised the issue during a meeting
with Myanmar’s foreign minister in Bali and that he had urged the government to
release thousands of political prisoners from jail.
economic sanctions against Myanmar, also known as Burma, in 2007 because of its
complete disregard for human rights.
Myanmar held elections late last
year, officially handing power to a civilian administration after a half-century
of military rule.
Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released from
house arrest. But many see the changes as cosmetic and believe the army will
continue to hold sway.
“I underlined the significance concern that the
government of Canada and Canadians have with Aung San Suu Kyi’s ability to be
mobile in the country and highlighted the ongoing concerns about her safety and
her security,” Baird said.
The minister also held talks with his
Australian and New Zealand counterparts.
The three foreign ministers
reaffirmed the long-standing relations between their countries and committed to
enhanced co-operation across the full range of international
“I raised the human rights situations in Burma and North
Korea with my counterparts,” Baird said.
“We also looked at human
smuggling and illegal migration and reaffirmed that we remain committed to
combatting these and other abuses of our respective immigration
Burma at a crossroads: an analysis of state
structures – Min Zin
Irrawaddy: Mon 25 Jul 2011
been more than 100 days since President Thein Sein’s new government took office
in Burma after a widely criticized “sham” election in November 2010. Many Burma
analysts and opposition activists alike have examined the work of a new
government by questioning whether the recent changes in Burma demonstrate the
beginnings of a process of genuine democratic transition, or whether this is
merely “old wine in a new bottle.”
Unfortunately, the question in itself
is wrong and misleading. The changes that are likely to take place under the
Thein Sein government represent neither democratic transition nor recorked
I have consistently argued since 2008 on the pages of The Irrawaddy
that the new constitution and the 2010 elections will not change incompatible
goals and relations between military and civilian forces, broadly speaking
As result, the post-2010 regime will not change
any salience of the issues including political prisoners, ethnic conflicts, and
other rights violations that the country has been facing and which have earned
it pariah status. However, I argued that November’s election will contribute to
changes in the format of governance—the transformation of the one-dimensional
military junta into a hybrid form of government that includes both political and
military elements. Regardless of who pulls the strings, this could lead to
either a serious internal split or the utter inefficiency of the ruling
In brief, my argument noted that even after the elections, the
state-society relations would remain more or less the same, but the intra-state
relations or state structure could be changed. Now we can engage more in nuanced
analysis of the part that I presume changing since the real situation on ground
has begun unfolding.
First of all, it is remarkable that Snr-Gen Than
Shwe managed to establish a pre-mortem succession arrangement by installing
potential rivals as his heirs apparent in different institutional settings. Than
Shwe put Thein Sein in the presidential seat but checked the move by installing
Tin Aung Myint Oo as a vice president. In parliament, he positioned Shwe Mann,
who had widely been speculated to become the first president of a hybrid
government, as the chair of the Lower House.
Those who were second-tier
in the lineup but reputed as hardliners, such as Htay Oo, Aung Thaung and Maung
Oo, have been assigned to lead the military-backed Union Solidarity and
Development Party (USDP), the ruling party.
Than Shwe left his
commander-in-chief position to Min Aung Hlaing, who is very junior compared with
the current leaders of the USDP-led government, but is known as disrespectful of
his seniors whenever he has a chance of holding an ascendant position.
brief, Than Shwe put them in stalemate against one another, and at the same time
weakened the overall governance capacity so that these heirs apparent could not
unite on the same ground and unsettle his days in retirement. This careful
arrangement of inter-institutions and personality rivalries effectively
undermines the possible consolidation of a new government’s power.
generals-turned-civilian leaders, who used to live under the vertical command
structure, appear to be clueless that who is now in the driver seat. It is still
unclear where the real locus of power in this new arrangement lies. No one so
far dares to cross the boundary of others, despite the increasing attempts at
jostling and even trespassing.
Second, if governance could be defined in
its minimalistic understanding as the tools, strategies and relationships used
by governments to help govern, the pivotal focus for analysis would be the state
institutions. Therefore, it is necessary to examine the formal as well as the
informal strategies and relationships that the new government in Naypyidaw is
likely to employ.
In institutional terms, we await to see what office (or
who in an initial period) evolves into the dominant mechanism (or figure) to
address the challenges of governance—whether it be the administrative body led
by Thein Sein who apparently tends to rely on technocrats, or the legislative
body led by Shwe Mann, or the USDP led by Htay Oo et al, or even the emergence
of a new autocrat, for instance Tin Aung Myint Oo.
As the country is
undergoing a political transition, we can’t of course expect democratic check
and balance in its state structure formations. One institution, either formal or
informal, will turn out to be the dominant instrument in governing the country.
Meanwhile, unless there is uncontrollable popular uprising or serious split
within the ruling body, the military may remain in the background.
generals-turned-civilian leaders in the new government manage to appoint a new
military chief every two or four years, it will further preempt another
potential military dictator to take root in a military power base. Meanwhile,
the most pressing challenge for the current ruling elites is to settle
institutional (in some incidents personality) rivalries between different state
structures. The observers must carefully detect which institution will come to
dominate or all will end up in inefficient impasse—or even fall
Although the inner workings of these institutional and personality
rivalries remain a matter of black box, some educated guesses could be made to
construct a possible scenario.
Careful analysis of biographical records
shows that Thein Sein has always been an administrative person, not a
decision-maker. He served as Colonel General Staff (now called Brigadier General
of the General Staff at the Ministry of Defense) in 1992, a very powerful
position in the army because the Brig-Gen’s general staff oversees and
coordinates the whole operation of the military establishment.
administrative officer, Thein Sein is known as a good listener and reportedly
good at facilitating and coordinating policy. But he has never been an effective
decision-maker. In his career, Thein Sein only took commander positions when he
didn’t have to engage any hard-fought battles. For instance, he was the
commanding officer of Infantry Battalion 89 in Chin State in the late 1980s; of
Military Operation Command MOC 4 near Rangoon in mid-1990s; and of the newly
formed Triangle Regional Military Command in 1996.
record is clearly in contrast with the experience of his closest threat, Tin
Aung Myint Oo, who checkmates him in administration. Tin Aung Myint Oo is known
as a “fighter” in the army. Tin Aung Myint Oo served a deputy commander of
Battalion 11 Infantry of LID 88 headed by Than Shwe in 1981-83, and later on won
the Thiha Thura medal in combat against Communist rebels in the 1988.
Aung Myint Oo became commanding officer of No 111 Light Infantry Battalion under
LID 33, and of the Tactical Operations Command under the Northern Military
Command in 1992. In 1995, he was a brigadier general with the Military Operation
Command-1 based in Northern Shan State. Battle-hardened Tin Aung Myint Oo became
commander of the Northeast Military Region in Lashio in 1997 before being
promoted to Quartermaster General in 2001.
Military insiders observe that
Tin Aung Myint Oo is decisive, micro-managing, rude and corrupt. He is a “jungle
man, not a gentleman,” says defector ex-Maj Aung Lynn Htut.
coming out of Naypyidaw confirm that the rivalries and tensions within
administrative apparatus are worsening over time.
As mentioned above,
Than Shwe appeared to design such an administrative set-up in order to preempt
unified successors, and consequently it weakens the governance. It is not likely
that we will see any political breakthrough—either with the opposition led by
Aung San Suu Kyi or with ethnic resistance groups—under such governance
constraints. It seems that a breakthrough will take place only if Suu Kyi and
the ethnic ceasefire groups agree to make game-changing concessions such as the
former accepting the 2008 constitution, and the latter accepting the junta’s
Border Guard Force arrangement. However, this scenario is currently
It doesn’t mean that the observers should ignore the
intentions of some leading members of the current leadership. President Thein
Sein gave a noteworthy inaugural speech, in which he emphasized “good
governance,” the fight against corruption, promotion of “democratic practices,
not only among parliamentary representatives, but also among the people,” and
the rule of law.
Likewise, Thura Shwe Mann, the speaker of the house at
the Pyithu Hluttaw, the Lower House of Burma’s Parliament, gave a jaw-dropping
speech to lawmakers, business people and even the media. He repeatedly noted the
phrase, “No one is above the law,” and that “people’s power reigns in the
parliament as it is formed with the people’s representatives,” invoking clause
228 of the constitution to elevate the role of parliament above the
Was it all too good to be true? In fact, the rhetoric of
these speeches, which might reflect their genuine intents, are so far nothing
more than a process of scoring points to promote their own
For instance, Maung Oo of the USDP emphasized in his
speeches that power has been transferred from the State Peace and Development
Council to the USDP, not to parliament, and the USDP will rule the country for
at least 50 more years.
The rhetoric, therefore, mainly demonstrates the
attempts of each group to consolidate their power bases and
So long as the struggle over the location of power is
unresolved, the policy outcomes remain unstable and reversible (such as the
recent decentralization experiment being revoked). Enthusiastic observers should
step back and check the facts, instead of taking speeches at face
If the new regime’s institutional rivalry and power struggles turn
out to be prolonged and result in inefficient governance or a split, the
military’s renewed intervention or even a popular revolt should not be ruled
However, if the regime manages to entrust an institution (such as
the technocrats or parliament or the USDP) to run the show, we will see a
consolidation of power. It means that the regime will be able start the real
process of much-needed institution-building in Burma.
institution-building, however, must be understood in the context of
state-building rather than democratization. As a result, one visible progress
may be seen in more dynamic economic rationality because the rule of law—at
least as far as business transactions are concerned—will be
It may help diversify the sources of the country’s revenue by
promoting manufacturing industries, instead of almost total concentration on the
natural resource extraction sector.
If stability and confidence in
governance grow, an incremental progress in the direction of media and political
liberalization may ensue, but the resolution of several critical issues,
including the release of leading political prisoners (such as Khun Htun Oo, Min
Ko Naing, Zarganar and U Gambira), and the peaceful settlement of ceasefire
challenges, will not necessarily be guaranteed.
In summary, the recent
changes in Burma do not support the argument that there is “no change at all”
nor the optimism that “the beginning of a process of democratization” is
Recent events demonstrate that the structure of state has
changed, and serious institutional rivalry is taking place within the new regime
to compete for and seize the locus of power.
If this power struggle is
settled successfully, an institution-building process will begin in Burma, and
economic rationality will likely reign. If not, we will see one of the
following: splits or purges, inefficient government, the emergence of another
autocrat, military intervention or a popular uprising. Worse still, these
scenarios are not mutually exclusive to one another.
* Min Zin is a
Burmese journalist living in exile.
Myanmar currency crunch cripples exporters,
CNBC: Fri 22 Jul 2011
Promises of economic
development and pro-business reforms from Myanmar’s new civilian government ring
hollow for entrepreneur Tin Maung, a fisheries exporter whose once-thriving firm
is now on the brink of bankruptcy.
Myanmar’s kyat currency has
appreciated 20 percent in the past year, more than any other Asian currency that
Reuters monitors daily, squeezing traders and exporters like Tin Muang, who are
struggling to break even as inflation pushes up costs and the new government
does nothing to tame the currency’s rise.
The strong kyat and high food
and fuel prices are a major test for the four-month-old government, not just
economically, but politically, and analysts warn its failure to tackle bread
and-butter issues may anger the public and lead to its downfall.
biggest and bloodiest uprisings against military rule, in 1988 and 2007 were
sparked by discontent over soaring inflation and fuel prices respectively, and
former government officials say more of the same could be on the
“It’s a political time bomb for the government,” said a retired
senior government official. “It was livelihood issues, not a thirst for
democracy that pushed people onto the street before and things couldn’t be worse
Dollars are pouring into Myanmar’s fragile and largely opaque
economy, with foreign investors keen to tap its vast resources and visiting
traders buying up gemstones. But most of that money ends up lining the pockets
of cronies of the military dictators who controlled the country for
The government’s inaction over the kyat’s strength and rising
food costs is alarming exporters, farmers and employees earning dollar-pegged
salaries. Businesses are closing, salaries are cut and jobs are being lost as
production costs rise.
Exporters who hoped for better times are hurting
badly, with the kyat currently trading at around 785 to the dollar on the black
market — which covers nearly all transactions — compared with more than 1,000 a
“We’re in a real dilemma. We’re fighting a losing battle
because of the soaring costs,” said Tin Muang, 42, who reckons more than 20
farms and processing plants in the fisheries sector alone have closed in recent
“We’ve had to sell all we were breeding in the local market at
low prices. It will have a very negative impact on our traditional export
The government has made no public acknowledgement of its
currency crisis and its cut in export tax from 10 to 7 percent, effective this
month, is a measure seen as too little, too late.
“I don’t think the
government is much interested in the worsening situation with the kyat,” said a
retired commerce ministry official, who requested anonymity.
complacent and focused on the huge proceeds from gems emporiums and foreign
Private economists point to the dollar’s weakness as the
main driver of the kyat’s appreciation but say many other factors have come into
play, including increased inflows from timber and energy exports, mainly to
China and Thailand, which is boosting demand for kyat.
Gems such as jade,
rubies and sapphires worth $5.7 billion were sold at three emporiums in the past
eight months alone.
Dollar inflows also increased with the repatriation
of funds held offshore by wealthy Burmese to buy up state assets and property in
a mass pre-election sell-off last year.
Sean Turnell, an expert on
Myanmar’s economy at Australia’s Macquarie University, said another major
contributor to the kyat’s strength was sales of illicit opium and
methamphetamine, of which Myanmar is one of the world’s biggest
Drug money was converted into
kyat to pay opium growers and workers in illegal drug factories, he said. The
rest was laundered through banks and businesses or put into Myanmar’s booming
real estate market, with transactions paid in kyat.
The lack of reliable
data or transparency in Myanmar’s economy and banking system allows Burmese
tycoons — many of whom are targeted by Western sanctions due to their alliances
with former junta leaders — to continue to boost their wealth.
see no signs that policy makers with a history of fiscal mismanagement will take
any action to intervene in the currency.
“In other countries, the central
banks normally intervene, but we can’t expect this sort of thing to happen
here,” said Maw Than, a retired rector of Yangon’s Institute of
“Unless effective measures are taken immediately, it will have
widespread negative impacts on the economy.”
Myanmar’s government wants
to boost exports but that is being inhibited by the kyat’s
Rice shipments, for example, dropped by almost two-thirds
in 2010 despite increased production of the grain, mostly because the strength
of the currency made it uncompetitive.
One exporter said 25 percent broken
rice fetched $390 per tonne, but after tax and transaction fees his income was
just $2 dollars per tonne higher than the local price, so exporters in various
sectors were selling off stocks on local wholesale markets to try to keep their
“It’s already had a grave impact on us, from the
primary producers and exporters to consumers,” said Hla Maung Shwe, a prominent
businessmen and vice-chairman of the Myanmar Federation of Chambers of
“The more we sell, the more we lose.”
investment in Indonesia surged 21 percent in the second quarter of 2011 from a
year earlier, as strong commodity prices attracted investors into the mining
sector in the world’s top exporter of thermal coal and tin.
portfolio investment has quickened into Southeast Asia’s largest economy in
recent months, though analysts warn the country needs to overhaul and expand its
infrastructure in coming years to keep attracting firms and to overcome the
sprawling archipelago’s Achilles’ heel — inflation.
For now things look
rosy: FDI totals $9.6 billion so far this year, on track for its highest ever in
2011, while foreign investment in government bonds and the stock market are both
“I’m very bullish,” said Gita Wirjawan, the country’s
investment chief and a former investment banker. “Traditionally, investment
quickens in the third quarter.”
Worries over eurozone and U.S. debt and
slower growth in China mean Indonesia is now seen as a relative safe haven,
though that could change once the West recovers or if runaway inflation returns
to erode a rupiah at seven-year highs .
FDI from April to June was 43.1
trillion rupiah ($5 billion), spread across the country. In a quarter when gold
[XAU= 1602.59 14.69 (+0.93%) ] and tin prices hit records , mining led the way
with $1.5 billion, followed by chemicals, machinery, electronics and
“FDI will continue coming because of strong economic
fundamentals and the appreciating rupiah…the main concern with long-term
investment is poor infrastructure conditions and inflation,” said Eric Sugandi,
economist at Standard Chartered in Jakarta.
While inflation is within the
central bank’s 4-6 percent target now, economists say inflationary pressures
will pick up again and lead to interest rate rises by mid-2012 that could slow
Poor infrastructure, from roads to ports, means higher
distribution costs that create both a structural inflation problem and cut into
companies’ profit margins. Previous bouts of high inflation have led to investor
The government is relying on private investors for two-thirds
of its $15 billion infrastructure needs, though Japan, China and India have all
made big commitments this year.
Yet progress on the ground in its
traffic-logged cities and overwhelmed ports remains to be seen, while corruption
“This is still Indonesia. Everyone wants something for nothing,”
said the Australian manager of a road building firm.
Infrastructure is seen as an investment opportunity if the
government can speed up land acquisition in the next year, with many investors
forced to build their own roads, rail and ports.
Wirjawan did not mention
specific firms, though in recent months officials and executives have said Coal
India, Procter & Gamble [PG 64.32 -0.17 (-0.26%) ] and Hyundai Motor are
planning investments, while dozens of others from Google [GOOG 609.73 2.74
(+0.45%) ] to Peabody Energy [BTU 61.21 -0.01 (-0.02%) ] are eyeing the
Neighbouring Singapore, a home for many Indonesian tycoons, was
the top foreign investor in Q2, followed by former colonial ruler the
Netherlands and then the United States, underlining growing interest from
Western investors who in recent years lagged Asian firms because of worries over
South Korea and India are expected to be leading investors in
the future, the investment agency said, with LG Electronics eyeing expansion to
tap consumer demand from an emerging middle class in the world’s fourth largest
India’s state-run National Aluminium Co Ltd (NALCO) is in
talks to invest in an aluminium smelter, the investment agency said on Thursday,
joining other Indian firms looking to buy coal mines and develop power or cement
The investment board is targeting 156 trillion rupiah of FDI this
year. Last year foreign investment into Indonesia reached a record 148 trillion
Analysts say the country ticks along at 6
percent annual economic growth despite the government and shabby bureaucracy
Fitch Ratings said in March it could lift Indonesia’s sovereign rating
to investment grade within 12 months, though weak infrastructure was the key
risk to any upgrade.
“A lack of infrastructure remains one of the biggest
constraints to boosting Indonesia’s growth potential. Significant improvements
to the regulatory framework are needed to support infrastructure spending and
public-private projects,” said Milan Zavadjil, the IMF’s representative in
Indonesia, adding it had to overcome inflation from cutting fuel
Still, compared to much of the world, Indonesia’s financial
situation looks strong, with a budget deficit seen at 2.1 percent of GDP this
year, and record foreign currency reserves of about $120 billion to stabilise
the rupiah currency in the event of any sudden fund outflows.
say this could happen once a global economic recovery leads Western countries to
start normalising rates.
“We see fears from investors from the end of the
low interest rate era in countries such as the United States, Europe, and Japan.
Once the Fed increases its benchmark… a large sudden reversal might occur in the
Asia region,” said Juniman, an economist at Bank International Indonesia in
“Another risk is the threat from a sovereign debt default in
Europe and that it could spread to the U.S. That will cause global economic
instability and the world will fall into recession, eventually. FDI would stop,
to wait and see.”
USDP to grant Rangoon residents loans; total
10 billion kyat
Mizzima News: Fri 22 Jul 2011
Rangoon Region Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) official said that
the USDP would grant loans, totaling 10 billion kyat, to people in Rangoon
Region. To qualify for a loan, a person must be a USDP member.
will grant a total of 7 billion kyat as small loans and a total of 3 billion
kyat as agricultural loans to farmers at a 2 per cent interest rate. Profits
would be used in health care services for the public, said Aung Thein Lin, a
Lower House MP from South Okkalapa Township and a former Rangoon Mayor.
canvasser from the Shwepyitha Township USDP said, “He [Aung Thein Lin] said that
the party granted money to the township, and people need to be grateful to the
A resident in North Okkalapa Township said, “We got a 30,000 kyat
loan. To get a loan, we didn’t need to sign over our possessions. But we had to
join the party.”
Aung Thein Lin also said the USDP would open charity
clinics and a charity maternity clinic in Rangoon. The USDP is the
government-supported party which holds a majority of seats in
Despite gold price rise globally, Burmese
traders can not increase price – Te Te
Mizzima News: Fri 22 Jul
New Delhi– An order by the Burmese government is preventing gold
traders from speculating despite record high prices on the global market, gold
merchants in Rangoon said.
Previously, the gold price in Burma depended
on the price fluctuations in the global market.
However, in early July
the gold price on the global market was US$1,480 per ounce (1 ounce= 1.76
ticals); on July 19, the price reached a record high of US$1,602. Since then,
the Burmese government has forbidden gold merchants from speculating on gold
The current gold price in Burma, 662,500 kyat (about US$ 828) per
tical (about 16 grams), is 10,000 kyat lower than the price on the global
market. If the Burmese government had not forbidden gold merchants from
speculating, the gold price could reach 680,000 kyat per tical, according to
estimates by gold merchants in Rangoon. Now, despite the stable price, gold
trading is sluggish, according to sources.
“Earlier when the price in the
global market was increased, the price in the local market was increased too.
Now the merchants can not increase,” said a gold shop owner from Shwebontha Road
in Pabedon Township. “To control the price, the authorities do not allow
‘laypakkar’ [‘Laypakkar’ is a method for speculation in which gold brokers and
merchants estimate the possible fluctuation of local gold prices based on the
possible fluctuations in the gold price in the global market and then buy gold
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