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[Readingroom] News on Burma - 7/1/11

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    Burmas opposition sets up legal networks to help activists The prospects for a U.S.-Burma thaw The dubious benefits of exposure to the west Political prisoners
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 7, 2011
      1. Burma’s opposition sets up legal networks to help activists
      2. The prospects for a U.S.-Burma thaw
      3. The dubious benefits of exposure to the west
      4. Political prisoners expected to be freed before parliament
      5. NLD outlines four principles for foreign investment
      6. Norwegian firm Seadrill heads back to Burma
      7. Japanese businesses face dilemma with Myanmar
      8. Looking back, looking forward
      9. Big Brother is listening: Junta to target 3,000 cell phones
      10. Anti-sanctions chorus out of tune
      11. Aung San Suu Kyi calls for Burma ‘national reconciliation’
      12. Chinese cars make inroads in Myanmar’s market
      13. Asian friends will fill junta pockets
      14. End sanctions on Myanmar
      15. Than Shwe’s son-in-law named Ambassador to China
      16. Korea cements pact with Myanmar
      17. Ten things we can do about Burma
      18. First phase of Sino-Myanmar link complete
      19. A crony rises in Myanmar
      20. India starts river project in Myanmar
      21. Deepening economic relations with Myanmar
      22. Internet cafes told to install CCTVs, security personnel to watch users
      23. Than Shwe Took Other Generals’ Wives as Hostages
      24. Vietnam, Myanmar increase two-way trade

      Burma’s opposition sets up legal networks to help activists – Htet Aung Kyaw
      Democratic Voice of Burma: Thu 6 Jan 2011

      Central Legal Aid Team of the National League for Democracy led by Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is to set up lawyers’ networks across the regions of Burma, in an effort to provide legal assistance for detained dissidents and activists.

      CLAT members Aung Thein and Khin Maung Shein have been touring Mandalay and Monywa in central Burma to meet with local lawyers to discuss their plan of building the networks.

      “We discussed how the lawyers’ groups [networks] in the regions can provide assistance for those being persecuted in political cases that take place in their regions,” said Aung Thein.

      “The network has no concern with being a member of the NLD – it is merely to assist those being involved in and working on court cases.”

      “More importantly, there are child soldier and land confiscation issues in our country, and lawyers who work on those cases often don’t know where to seek assistance from. We are to act as volunteers for them.”

      There are more than 2200 political prisoners being detained in jails throughout the country, despite recent release of Aung San Suu Kyi.

      Sinopec finds large oil and gas deposits in Myanmar
      Reuters: Thu 6 Jan 2011

      Yangon – Sinopec International Petroleum (SIPC) has discovered proven reserves of 909 billion cubic feet of gas and 7.16 million barrels of condensate in central Myanmar, state media reported on Thursday.

      The international trading arm of China Petroleum & Chemical Corp (Sinopec) , made the find in the Pahtolon oilfield after extensive testing and planned to carry out more in the future, official newspapers in Myanmar said.

      Myanmar has been exploring oil and gas in 49 onshore sites and 26 offshore blocks in Rakhine, Tanintharyi and Mon states after entering joint ventures with foreign companies since 1988.

      The discovery was made by SIPC Myanmar Petroleum Co. Ltd, a joint venture between state-owned Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise and Sinopec , which has been exploring oil and gas in the former Burma since 2004.

      China is Myanmar’s biggest economic and political ally and has taken advantage of Western sanctions to pour money into its resource-rich neighbour, which it sees as vital for its fast-growing energy needs. Sinopec, Asia’s top refiner, has forecast China’s oil demand to grow 5-6 percent over the next five years as its economy is seen expanding by 10 percent annually.

      Thailand is currently the biggest investor in Myanmar but China is expected to become the biggest buyer of Myanmar’s gas when construction of a 1,100 km (680 mile) pipeline from Rakhine State to China’s Yunnan province is completed in 2013.

      Myanmar and China have agreed a deal on the sale of gas from the country’s two biggest blocks in Rakhine, known as A-1 and A-3, which have proven reserves of up to 10 trillion cubic feet, with up to 8.6 TCF recoverable.

      Official data shows Myanmar exported $2.38 billion of gas, mainly to Thailand, during its 2008-2009 fiscal year (April-March) and $2.52 billion a year later.

      The latest data shows Myanmar exported gas worth $1.2 billion in the first half of the current fiscal year. (Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Alan Raybould and Ramthan Hussain) (Created by Ramthan Hussain)

      Burma opening up to more Thai investment
      Bangkok Post: Thu 6 Jan 2011

      Burma hopes to lure Thai investment this year, particularly in infrastructure projects, after many years of low cooperation with the exception of PTT, says the Neighbouring Countries Economic Development Cooperation Agency (NEDA).

      President Acksiri Buranasiri said the agency’s executives held discussions with Burmese ministry officials during a state visit last October, focusing on assistance Thailand could provide to Burma.

      The Burmese officials asked Thailand to assist in developing a road to complete a transport network called the East-West economic corridor. They also want Thailand to invest in developing its Bagan airport, where it plans to allow direct flights of mid-sized airplanes.

      Bagan airport is a part of Burma’s “Emerald Triangle” national development plan, which is aimed at bridging cultural and tourist destinations including Bagan – the so-called land of a thousand pagodas – to Pakse in Laos, Cambodia’s Siem Reap and Thailand’s Sukhothai.

      “This plan is aimed at building up regional cultural tourist attractions instead of each place alone, so that it is convenient to visit several locations across borders during a single trip, similar to travel in Europe,” said Mr Acksiri.

      Providing financial assistance to neighbouring countries is expected to benefit Thailand as well. For example, around 70% of travellers to Laos transit through Suvarnabhumi airport. Once the new airport in Laos has been built, it will attract more visitors through Thailand.

      Burmese projects are expected to stimulate the Thai construction business as NEDA’s contract offers a low interest rate of 1.5% on loans provided the lender agrees to hire only Thai contractors and use at least 50% Thai raw materials.

      NEDA is waiting for the Burmese government to set up after its recent election before it signs an agreement.

      In the past, most projects in Burma earned financial and development assistance from China. An exception is the 30-kilometre road from Myawaddy to Tanaosri, which used a 4-billion-baht loan from the Export-Import Bank of Thailand.

      In the past, NEDA provided a 1-billion-baht soft loan to Cambodia for the route from Chong Jom in Surin province to Siem Reap, but it was revoked due to tensions between the two countries, so financing fell to the Chinese government.

      Since the agency began in 2005, NEDA has provided soft loans for 12 projects worth 5 billion baht and given an additional 2.5 billion baht in financial grants. There are eight projects in Laos, two in Cambodia, and one each in Burma and Vietnam.NEDA is expanding external economic development by focusing on smaller economies as Thailand is still a developing country.

      It plans to seek cabinet approval to extend its coverage to East Timor, Sri Lanka and Bhutan, where it foresees great potential for infrastructure development in the future.

      Laos still requires development projects that will cost around 180 million baht, such as the second phase of Pakse airport, as that city tries to become the second largest behind Vientiane.

      “Laos asked us if we can help finance development projects in six or seven cities, but we might limit it to a few major cities first. Each city requires only slightly over 100 million baht, but it helps strengthen the relationship of Thais with Laotians as the development improves their quality of living,” said Mr Acksiri.

      This development aids Thailand, he noted, as the branch with the highest sales earned for Tesco Lotus in Thailand is Nong Khai, which is on the border with Laos.

      In the near future, NEDA will focus on paving ways for Thai companies to be priority investors in these neighbour countries by setting conditions on soft loan agreements.

      “For instance, if we provide soft loans to some country to build roads, railways or container yards, Thai private firms should have priority to invest in related projects such as hotels,” said Mr Acksiri.

      FEC may be dropped in Burma – Wai Moe
      Irrawaddy: Thu 6 Jan 2011

      With US dollar and Foreign Exchange Certificate (FEC) exchange rates unstable for an extended period, rumors are circulating among the business community in Rangoon that the military government may withdraw the FEC after nearly 18 years on the market.

      The exchange rates have been falling against the Burmese currency, the kyat, since late November, and black market rates have decreased to 820 kyat for the dollar while the FEC is selling at 780 kyat. “Export earnings,” on the other hand, are currently valued at 900 kyat to the dollar on the black market.

      “Export earnings” is the term given to hard currency that is banked in Burma by companies that are permitted to trade by the Ministry of Commerce. Although their value is estimated at black market rates, it is deposited and taxed at the official rate of exchange.

      Rangoon-based businessmen said the falling FEC and dollar rates come soon after Burma’s biggest gem fair in Naypyidaw in November when the Burmese junta and associated companies reportedly earned about $ 1.4 billion from Asian customers.

      However, other observers said the low exchange rate could be related to money laundering in the country following the season of opium production.

      “I heard that a large amount of black money in the country’s financial market has made the kyat firm,” said a business correspondent with a Rangoon-based weekly.

      The FEC was firstly introduced in 1993 when the military junta released it in a bid to get foreign currency from tourists and foreign investors. The FEC was designated as a substitute for US dollars and could be exchanged at a fixed rate of 6 kyat per dollar and 450 kyat for an FEC.

      Although the black market rate is significantly dominated by the country’s trading, Burmese authorities still maintain the official exchange rate pegged at around 6 kyat per dollar.

      However, analysts say the FEC is still significantly overvalued against the dollar even though the government had planned to use the FEC as a “Myanmar dollar” at an equal value to the US currency. In recent months however, the FEC rate has been about 40 or 50 kyat lower than the dollar on the black market.

      According to a 2008 US State Department report: “Burma’s multiple exchange rates make conversion and repatriation of foreign exchange very complex, and ripe for corruption.”

      The situation has a direct impact on tourism enterprises, international NGOs, exporters and other companies and organizations that pay their staff in FECs.

      “The FEC rate is so low that hotels and tourism companies are not willing to take FECs from customers,” said a business source who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Now the Myanmar tourism authority has issued a warning to hotels, guest houses and tourism enterprises to accept FECs following tourists’ complaints.”

      NGO staffers said they feel that they are losing a percentage of their salary if they get paid in FECs.

      “Since the FEC rate dropped, all Burmese staffers at our office are unhappy on pay day. Some say that if they would prefer to received kyat,” said a staffer with a UN agency in Rangoon.

      A business source said he and other mid-ranking import/export agents had stopped trading while the FEC and export earnings (export dollars) were so low and were taking a “wait-and-see” approach.

      “Cronies such as Tay Za, Nay Win Tun, Zaw Zaw and others are also affected,” said an editor at a business journal in Rangoon.

      But even though the dollar and FEC rates are low, consumer prices are still high or even higher, local media reported, which is another reason the public is frustrated over the drop in the exchange rates.

      “The dollar has decreased, but prices have not dropped,” one Rangoon resident was quoted as saying in the Weekly Eleven journal. “One person still needs at least 2,000 kyat to eat. Although some import items are cheaper, electronics are not in our budget.”

      Burma’s Trade Policy Council, currently chaired by the junta’s Secretary-1 Tin Aung Myint Oo, handles export-import licenses, investments and monetary transactions. The council oversees foreign exchange and banking through three state banks, the Myanma Foreign Trade Bank (MFTB), the Myanma Investment and Commercial Bank (MICB) and the Myanma Economic Bank (MEB).

      “The MFTB primarily handles foreign currency transactions for government organizations, businesses and private individuals, while the MICB primarily serves companies and joint ventures. MEB handles foreign currency transactions in the border trade regions,” the US State Department reported in 2008.

      The prospects for a U.S.-Burma thaw – Roberto Tofani
      World Politics Review: Thu 6 Jan 2011

      The recent release of Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi could produce, as a ripple effect, a shift in the relationship between Burma and the U.S.

      Suu Kyi has stated that she intends to pursue reconciliation with the junta. This, in turn, could suit Washington’s softening stance toward the regime and the Obama administration’s stated preference for alternative policies in dealing with Burma.

      Suu Kyi’s decision is dictated by the reality on the ground. Her National League for Democracy party (NLD), which won 1990 elections that were never recognized domestically, was disbanded after it boycotted the November 2010 parliamentary elections. Those polls resulted in the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) gaining a majority in the two national legislative chambers. The National Democratic Front (NDF) — an independent offshoot of the NLD — is to be the largest opposition party in the upcoming parliament, with 16 out of 161 representatives. Twenty-five percent of the seats in the chambers are set aside for representatives of the military.

      With the junta also controlling the country’s security apparatus, Suu Kyi’s first priority is to establish a dialogue with Burma’s other democratic forces — connections that are currently lacking. Than Nyein, NDF chairman, told WPR, “We don’t think to create alliances with other parties, and we have no dialogue with NLD members.”

      According to sources, Suu Kyi is also planning to work toward building a political program and a new political network, relying on the young and, especially, on student groups. “The Lady,” as she is affectionately known among her local supporters, is barred from directly taking part in the political process under a 2008 constitutional stipulation that forbids those married to foreigners from running for office. Suu Kyi’s British husband, Michael Aris, died in 1999. Fresh recruits could thus serve as possible front candidates for a newly formed party.

      Suu Kyi’s two-track approach, however, assumes that the junta will continue to maintain a period of relative political calm. The resulting national context could, in turn, facilitate a thaw in U.S.-Burma relations.

      The U.S. has historically been outspoken against the junta, with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dubbing Burma an “outpost of tyranny” In 2005. The George W. Bush administration’s tough stance included restrictive policies such as the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003 and the Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE Act of 2008. The former sanctioned the junta and aimed to support democratic forces within Burma, mirroring British policy toward Burma. It also recognized the NLD as the legitimate representative of the Burmese people. The second act barred Burmese gemstones from entering the United States via third countries.

      By contrast, President Barack Obama has turned over a new leaf.

      Obama did condemn the November elections as “neither free nor fair.” However, in February 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the U.S. acknowledged that neither sanctions nor engagement had nudged the military rulers toward democratic reforms, and that the U.S. was reviewing its policy toward Burma. The new policy, announced in September 2009, is a classic carrot-and-stick approach, with the U.S. agreeing to talk to the junta and to relax sanctions if certain conditions are met. This approach is supported by U.S. business interests, with Tami Overby, vice president for Asia at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, calling on Congress to consider easing the sanctions if at all possible.

      U.S.-Burma economic cooperation could be spearheaded by private firms freed to do business in a country that is rich in gas, oil and other resources. At present, companies with investments or agreements in Burma dating before May 21, 1997, are exempted from sanctions. The exemption includes a partnership between the U.S. oil corporation Unocal, now a subsidiary of Chevron, and the French corporation Total covering natural-gas exploration and an offshore pipeline running across Burma into Thailand — a project that provides between $400 million to $647 million in annual revenue to Burma’s government.

      Suu Kyi’s re-engagement in the political process could make it easier for Obama to loosen sanctions and increase U.S. engagement with the junta. Suu Kyi has already indicated her support for a softening of the sanctions, especially if they are found to be more damaging to ordinary citizens than to the regime.

      The Dec. 10 meeting between Suu Kyi and Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Joseph Yun is one indication that this course may be pursued. Yun also met with Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win, which could indicate that the junta itself is more open to talks with Washington.

      Partial engagement between the U.S. and the junta could also work as a shield for Suu Kyi, who remains vulnerable to the junta’s whims. Currently, the junta has shown no interest in engaging her, even after her meeting with Yun.

      In the medium to long term, a thaw in relations could also open the door to possible discussions on the worrying prospect of a nuclear-armed junta. As confirmed by U.S. diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, quoted by the Guardian, this remains a serious concern for the U.S.

      The prospect of a U.S.-Burma engagement, however, rests on the assumption that the junta and Suu Kyi find a new modus vivendi. By all indications, Washington has a role to play in promoting this outcome.

      * Roberto Tofani is a journalist and analyst based in both Italy and Southeast Asia. He is also the editor of Sudestasiatico.com.

      The dubious benefits of exposure to the west – Editorial
      Irrawaddy: Thu 6 Jan 2011

      One of the arguments that has been put forward for ending sanctions on Burma’s ruling regime is that doing so would expose the country’s generals to the West and encourage them to emulate the example of the world’s liberal democracies, with their open market economies and rule of law.

      It’s a interesting idea, but unfortunately, there’s no reason to believe that it would actually work. To see why not, we need only look at Burma’s not-so-distant past.

      Until 1988, Burma’s rulers had no shortage of opportunities to learn from the West. During its 26 years in power, the Ne Win regime sought to isolate the country from the outside world, but maintained regular government-to-government ties with Western powers. The US, Britain, Germany and Israel, among others, all provided various forms of support, including financial and military assistance and overseas training for senior police and army officers.

      Indeed, Ne Win himself was an inveterate globetrotter, making regular trips to Europe and the US for vacations and to receive medical treatment during his years as the chairman of the Burmese Socialist Programme Party (BSPP), the party he created when he seized power in 1962 and which ruled Burma until its collapse in 1988.

      Throughout this period, however, Ne Win demonstrated little interest in opening up Burma to the influence of the West. On the contrary, he seemed determined to reserve the privilege of contact with the outside world for the chosen, trusted few.

      Among those who went abroad to learn from the West were Brig-Gen Tin Oo, the feared intelligence chief who studied under the CIA and at the UK’s Police Academy in the 1960s and 1970s. Upon his return to Burma, he helped to help create one of the world’s most notorious police states.

      Col Tun Tin, one of the army officers who played a key role in the earliest days of Burma’s post-independence counter-insurgency efforts, including as the leader of Burmese army forces in the “Battle of Insein” in 1949, completed a Provost Marshal course in the UK. He took an especially keen interest in the “four cuts” strategy used by the British in Malaysia, discussing the subject with officers at the British War Office. Burma’s army continues to use this strategy to this day, targeting ethnic civilians in its efforts to suppress armed groups operating in border areas.

      Gen Kyaw Htin, Burma’s longest-serving chief of staff (1976 to 1984), also studied abroad. Following a stint in the US, where he attended the Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Burma received two slots at this elite military college annually. Many Burmese army and police officers also regularly attended the Royal Police Academy in the UK.

      While many now criticize China for providing weapons to the Burmese regime, it is worth noting that under Ne Win, it was the West that acted as Burma’s main arms supplier. In the early 1960s, Germany’s Fritz Warner Company built arms factories in Burma to produce weapons for use by the same army that overthrew the country’s democratically elected government in 1962.

      Did Burma benefit at all from being ruled by generals and former generals who enjoyed cozy relations with the West? The obvious answer is no. By 1988, when massive pro-democracy protests forced the BSPP out of power, only to be replaced by the current junta, Burma’s was one of the world’s poorest countries.

      Many in the regime knew that the country’s economy was falling apart, but rather than reform, they turned to their foreign friends for support. Tun Tin, who briefly served as Burma’s prime minister in 1988, often traveled to Germany and Japan in the 1970s and 1980s to get soft loans and other forms of financial assistance, but never dared to propose following the advice of these more advanced countries, which was to open Burma up to foreign investment.

      After the suppression of the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the West suspended transfers of military technology to Burma and imposed economic sanctions. Now, however, some seem to regret taking this principled stand, which has left Burma wide open to exploitation by its wealthier neighbors while keeping Western companies, for the most part, shut out of the rush to claim a share of the country’s resources.

      This is wrong, say anti-sanctions advocates, because whereas countries like China and Thailand are completely unprincipled in their dealings with the regime, Western companies have higher standards of accountability. But people displaced by pipelines built by Total or Unocal may take little comfort in knowing that if they are mistreated by these companies’ military partners in Burma, courts on the other side of the world are always ready to listen, as long as they’re prepared to wait a decade or so to get a fair hearing.

      Realistically, you can’t expect dyed-in-the-wool dictators to change their ways just by giving them opportunities to shake hands and sign deals with European or American executives. Even Khin Nyunt, Maung Aye and many other past or present members of the current junta who traveled to the West many times before visa bans were imposed on them failed to pick up the “democracy bug” that is supposedly transmitted by contact with citizens of liberal democracies.

      The same is true of many of Burma’s neighbors, who despite their close ties with the US and other Western countries remain at best ambivalent about democracy. Thailand, a staunch American ally, is a good example of this. Many Thai armed forces leaders have received training in the West and ride F-16 jet fighters and use Western-made automatic rifles and tanks. But this hasn’t stop them from turning their weapons on protesters when they deemed it necessary.

      Further evidence of the fact that exposure to the West brings no guarantee of enlightened thinking can be found in the chorus of Western-educated Burmese who endorsed the farcical election held last November. After years of study in the West, they seem to have come to the conclusion that democracy is merely a matter of form. Unfortunately, these are the people that policy makers in the West seem to be listening to these days.

      Ordinary Burmese with little or no education seem to understand better than many “Burma experts” that what their country needs is good governance, not a change of costumes by the ruling generals. In fact, what Burma lacks is not exposure to the West, but leaders who understand their own country and its people’s needs. Until that day comes, no amount of contact with the outside world will help.

      Political prisoners expected to be freed before parliament – Hseng Khio Fah
      Shan Herald Agency for News: Wed 5 Jan 2011

      The ruling military junta of Burma is expected to grant amnesty to all political prisoners before the first session of the new parliament, according to sources from Naypyitaw.
      “They [the junta] said all the political prisoners will be released. But no dates or any further details were given. But it is to be either before or when the parliament is opened,” a source close to the junta said.

      The opening of the new Burma’s parliament is expected to take place in late January, the Irrawaddy reported earlier.

      At the same time, eleven local pro-democracy organizations urged the military junta on Monday to release more than 2,200 political prisoners on the Burma’s Independence Day, yesterday January 4.

      According to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma, there are 2,203 political prisoners in Burma.

      In September last year, a total of 7,114 prisoners were freed and among those over 200 were political prisoners.

      NLD outlines four principles for foreign investment – Htet Aung
      Irrawaddy: Wed 5 Jan 2011

      Burma’s leading democratic opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has outlined four principles for foreign investment in the country and reaffirmed its stand on the need to review existing economic sanctions for the benefit of the people, according to a party policy statement.

      “Consideration of environmental and social impacts on the people, respect for labor rights, the creation of job opportunities and technically advanced investments” are the four main priorities of the party’s foreign investment policy, said the statement, which was titled “Economic Analysis” and released on Jan. 4, Burma’s Independence Day.

      The statement also highlighted the need to address rising commodity prices and increasing joblessness due to the unequal distribution of wealth in the country.

      Asked whether the party has begun to consider welcoming foreign direct investment to the country based on these principles, Win Tin, the secretary of the NLD, told The Irrawaddy: “First we want to review the impact of the sanctions on ordinary citizens. We have already said that if we find that they negatively impact the people, we will consider calling for an end to sanctions.”

      He added that if the sanctions are lifted, “These four principles will be our guideline to decide whether which investments we should accept.”

      He further explained that the NLD set these four principles not only to reduce the negative impacts of foreign investments on the environment of the country but also to protect the people’s social and economic life.

      “An example is Chinese investment in the construction of the Myitsone dam at the confluence of the N’mai and Mali rivers, where the Irrawaddy River begins,” said Win Tin. “The Irrawaddy is our country’s main river and building such a dam could have negative environmental and social consequences for the country and the people.”

      Win Tin also expressed concern that China’s investment in Burma did little to alleviate unemployment because Chinese companies often brought their own laborers to work on their projects. Another problem, he said, was that local people are often forced to relocate because of these projects, affecting their livelihoods.

      The NLD’s policy statement criticized most current investment in Burma for prioritizing short-term profit and failing to consider the sustainable development of the country.

      The statement pointed out that building a lot of dams, reservoirs and river bridges without considering the environment and the livelihoods of local people often did more harm than good. In many cases, cultivated lands have been damaged by these projects and farmers have lost their capital because they are forced to grow crops that are not suitable in the land and weather.

      The statement also highlighted the need to establish the rule of law and transparent, accountable governance in Burma. It said that the economy must be equally open to all citizens if Burma is to develop economically.

      “To build an industrialized country, there must be investments which encourage a transfer of advanced technologies, but we get nothing from China’s investments,” said Win Tin.

      Norwegian firm Seadrill heads back to Burma – Thomas Maung Shwe
      Mizzima News: Wed 5 Jan 2011

      Chiang Mai – The Norwegian firm Seadrill will set up its ‘West Juno’ gas drilling rig in Burmese waters to undertake contract work for the Thai oil firm PTT Exploration & Production Company Ltd (PTTEP).

      The rig will be in Burmese waters for four months.

      Construction of the Seadrill’s newest rig was completed in Singapore in December 2010.

      Seadrill came under fire last year from Burma activists for drilling work in Burma conducted for Twinza Oil, an Australian company.

      Activists raised concerns over human rights violations linked to oil and gas developments in the country and pressed its withdrawal.

      Companies working in Burma have come under fire for financing military rule.

      In 2010, the Norweigan News Agency, quoted Seadrill spokesperson Hilde Waaler as saying the company had “no plans of signing any new contracts for work in the country”

      However, Seadrill’s return to Burma was disclosed in late December by Braemar Falconer, a Singapore based offshore engineering consultancy firm that will be assisting Seadrill with the PTTEP contract.

      Seadrill had performed drilling work for PTTEP in Burmese waters before on its ‘West Ariel’ rig.

      The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs told independent news service Norwatch it encourages companies to “refrain from trading with or investing in Burma”.

      The spokesperson said they didn’t want Seadrill or other Norwegian companies to “contribute to financing a military dictatorship”.

      “Norway endorses the European Union’s measures against Burma, which, among other things, include a ban on investments in certain types of enterprises”.

      However, Norwegian firms are not legally prevented from doing business in Burma, nor are they subject to the EU sanctions.

      Norway is one of the few European nations not a member of the union.

      Seadrill’s shares are traded on the both the Oslo and New York stock exchanges and while the firm is subject to United States sanctions, their activities in Burma are not affected.

      Washington prohibits firms from making new investments in Burma, but there is a loophole for ‘technical services’. However, technical services must be provided to companies not blacklisted by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

      Transocean, a Swiss-American drilling firm, is under investigation by OFAC because the company conducted offshore drilling work for a consortium that included a blacklisted firm owned by junta crony and alleged drug lord Stephen Law, and his father Lo Sit Han.

      Seadrill and its partner Braemar Falconer could not be reached today for comment.

      Japanese rig to drill off of Arakan coast

      Another offshore drilling rig owned by the Japan Drilling Company (JDC), will head to Burma’s Arakan coast later this month as part of a job for Daewoo International, lead consortium partners in the Shwe gas project.

      JDC- Japan’s only oil drilling firm signed a $41.34 million drilling contract that runs from January 15 to March 1 of this year.

      The company’s semi-submersible rig will drill four deep sea wells in Burmese waters near Sittwe. The contract also contains an option to drill a possible fifth well.

      JDC has previously drilled offshore in Burma for Malaysia’s state owned firm Petronas.

      Japanese businesses face dilemma with Myanmar – Takeshi Kamiya
      Asahi Shimbun: Wed 5 Jan 2011

      Japanese businesses face a tough decision of whether to invest in a country ruled by a military junta or sit back and let China and South Korea surge ahead in a key area.

      That area, Myanmar (Burma), has not seen new direct investment from Japanese companies for almost a decade.

      Entering the Myanmar market could raise criticism from the United States and Europe, which maintain economic sanctions against Myanmar’s oppressive military regime.

      However, the government-affiliated Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) says it has received three inquiries from businesses about setting up shop in Myanmar since the country’s first national elections in 20 years in November. The elections were described as a farce.

      The inquiries were “remarkable in that no increase had been seen in the past several years in the number of businesses operating here,” said an official of JETRO’s office in Yangon (Rangoon).

      JETRO figures show foreign direct investment in Myanmar jumped to $16 billion (1.3 trillion yen) between April and August 2010, almost matching the overall total between 1988 and 2009.

      The heavy investors were from China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Thailand. Their targets include natural resources, such as natural gas and rare metals.

      Despite international criticism against the Myanmar government for restricting freedom of speech and causing other human rights problems, the country attracts business attention for its location, surrounded by fast-growing China and India as well as other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

      China and India are reportedly developing deep-water ports for large vessels in Myanmar to use as their gateways to the sea.

      About 50 Japanese companies are operating in Myanmar, the last entering in 2001. They are expanding production in such areas as clothes and footwear as orders increased from businesses trying to disperse the risks from excessive dependence on China.

      Although Tokyo did not impose sanctions against Myanmar, Japanese companies have shunned new investments to protect their images. They are also wary of the unstable power supply and unpredictable policy changes.

      An investment “boom” in Myanmar did occur in the latter half of the 1990s, when Mitsui & Co. developed an industrial park and former Fuji Bank agreed on setting up a joint venture bank. But the boom was short-lived.

      Eitaro Kojima, head of JETRO’s Yangon office, expects economic deregulation in Myanmar before ASEAN’s economic integration slated for 2015.

      “The Myanmar government appears to be seriously concerned that its industry will suffer a major blow when the ASEAN integration makes progress,” Kojima said. “I think it will move to liberalize its economy to promote development of its industry.”

      Looking back, looking forwards – Aung San Suu Kyi
      Mainichi (Japan): Wed 5 Jan 2011

      Following her release from house arrest this past November, Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has once again begun contributing her “Letter from Burma” column to the Mainichi, ending a 13-year absence from its pages.In her column, Suu Kyi intends to suggest how to press forward with Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement, which faces major challenges in the authoritarian state.

      She agreed to resume her monthly column when a Mainichi correspondent interviewed her after she was freed from house arrest.

      Another reporter and a photographer met with Suu Kyi at her residence in Yangon in late December, and she handed them the first of her new “Letter from Burma” columns along with a message to the readers.

      — — —

      The beginning of the year is a time for renewal, reinvigoration, resolutions and remembrance of things past.

      I look back on 2010 and find that parts of the year were so little memorable as to have disappeared wholly into the lost wastes of time. How did I spend the first day of 2010? I cannot remember.

      I can say, however, that it could not have been comfortable. Renovations to my house had been started in December 2009 and stopped a few weeks later by order of the municipal authorities.

      While my lawyers worked to get the order reversed, I spent several months living in the midst of cardboard boxes, thick woven blankets wrapped around unidentifiable objects, assorted suitcases and leaning towers of books.

      Looking up from my bed, which was wedged between a high bookshelf, odd tables and a number of lumpy bundles, I had a good view of a peeling chunk of ceiling that afforded me many moments of contemplation on the nature of decrepitude and decay.

      While the weather was cool, the jam-packed room seemed cozy, and the urban jungle camp-style of existence could be seen as something of an adventure. As the weather got hotter and hotter, however, the romance wore off, particularly as the scaffolding that had been erected against the outside walls was in such a position that the windows of the bedroom could not be opened and large parts of the night were passed in sleepless swelter. I did not feel in the best of health.

      The first quarter of 2010 was not just a period of physical discomfort, it was also one of intense mental activity. My lawyers would visit me on occasion to discuss the appeal that we had lodged against the sentence that had been meted out to me at the Insein Jail court the previous year.I found the whole legal process fascinating and learnt much from my highly experienced and able lawyers.

      I felt immense pride in them and in the Legal Committee of the National League for Democracy (NLD) that had been working hard since 1995 to uphold the rule of law and to defend the rights of prisoners of conscience in our country. As one of the lawyers, U Nyan Win, was a member of the Executive Committee of the NLD, I also learnt much of what was happening in the political world outside my house and was able to participate to some extent in the decision making process of the party.

      This, in a year crucial to the political scene in Burma, posed intellectual challenges which, for me, were of far greater importance than health considerations.

      Around the time of the Burmese New Year that falls in mid-April, the court decreed that the renovations to my house could be continued. Overnight, what had been an enclosure cut off from the sounds and movements of the world outside became a place of constant noise and action as workmen swarmed all over the place.

      There was so much to be done. A major project was repairs to the roof. For some years I had spent the monsoon months moving my bed, bowls, basins and buckets around my bedroom like pieces in an intricate game of chess, trying to catch the leaks and to prevent the mattress (and myself, if I happened to be on it) from getting soaked. Now that the roof would be made sound.

      I could look forward to the next rains with equanimity. In Burmese, a sound roof is a metaphor for security, a reflection of the notion that if all was well at the very top, all would be well throughout an edifice.

      The repairs and renovations meant there would be greater physical convenience and comfort in the future. But much more important than the material considerations were the human contacts that were made possible.

      Every day for about five months (the work on the house went on from April to September with a break of three weeks in-between), I was able to acquaint myself with the lives and concerns of our workmen, to acquire a better understanding of the difficulties with which the labor force of our country had to cope and to get a clearer idea of their hopes and aspirations.

      Another consequence of the renovation project was frequent discussions with the Special Branch and other forces responsible for the security of the premises. The bringing in of men and materials had to be negotiated on an almost daily basis, and we found that obstacles could be smoothed out with reasoning and flexibility on both sides.

      2010 was a year that brought many improvements to my house, but what it brought to our country, which is the home of all our people, is a much more serious tale, to be told another time.

      I would like to end this, the first article I have written since my release, by expressing my deep appreciation of the support and friendship the Mainichi Shimbun has given me over two decades and by sharing with its readership an extract from a poem that had a special significance for my late husband and that I cherish for its abiding wisdom:

      …yesterday is but a dream,
      And tomorrow is only a vision;
      But today, well lived,
      Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness,
      And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
      Look well, therefore, to this day.

      –from The Salutation to the Dawn based on a Vedic Hymn. (By Aung San Suu Kyi)

      Big Brother is listening: Junta to target 3,000 cell phones – Hset Linn
      Irrawaddy: Tue 4 Jan 2011

      Rangoon — Burma’s military regime is preparing to intercept more than 3,000 GSM and CDMA phones belonging to politicians, businessmen, social activists, artists and media personnel, according to an official from the state-run Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT).

      The official, who is involved in the implementation process, told The Irrawaddy that Military Affairs Security (MAS), the regime’s intelligence agency, arranged the phone interception plan and will implement it with technical assistance from MPT. A team consisting of more than 20 MAS members and an MPT engineer will be responsible for maintaining constant surveillance of the designated cell phones, but an operation base has not yet been chosen, the official said on condition of anonymity.

      Apart from executive members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), the list of those whose calls will be listened in on reportedly includes some independent candidates and leaders from political parties that were newly formed to contest last year’s election in November.

      Others on the list include some of the junta’s leading business cronies, such as Tay Za, Zaw Zaw, Htun Myint Naing, Chit Khaing and Nay Aung, along with more than 60 other businessmen, including MPs-elect Khin Shwe, Htay Myit, Win Myint and Ko Ko Gyi, all of whom contested the election as members of the regime’s proxy party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

      Social activists and artists are also targeted, according to the official. HIV/AIDS activist Phyu Phyu Thin, writer Than Myint Aung and actor Kyaw Thu and his wife are reportedly on the list under the category of “social activists,” while movie directors Maung Myo Min, Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi and Cho Too Zaw and singers Anaga, Yan Yan Chan and Kyar Pauk, along with some other hip hop performers, are placed under the “artists” category.

      High-profile media personnel are also on the MAS list, including Dr Than Htut Aung, the CEO of the Eleven Media Group; Dr. Nay Win Maung, the CEO of the Voice Weekly journal; Thaung Su Nyein, the editor-in-chief of the 7 Days news journal; Ko Ko, the editor-in-chief of the Yangon Times news journal; and foreign correspondents Aye Aye Win and Aung Hla Htun.

      The MPT official said he thinks junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe directly ordered the MAS to carry out this plan, because a number of USDP MPs-elect are included on the list.

      He said a similar program existed when Gen Khin Nyunt was the junta’s military intelligence chief, but it was shut down after Khin Nyunt was purged in 2004 and his intelligence unit was dismantled.

      “There were not many cell phones in Burma when the former intelligence unit was active, so they were easy to intercept. These days, however, there are so many phones in use, and people keep changing them all the time, so I doubt the interception plan will be successful,” said the MPT official.

      The regime, which always keeps a close eye on the country’s political opposition, often traces the telephone records of politicians and activists to find evidence to try and imprison them.

      Soon after the monk-led protests in Burma in September 2007, also known as the Saffron Revolution, about 200 mobile phones belonging to politicians, journalists and students were blocked without explanation.

      Anti-sanctions chorus out of tune – Maung Zarni
      Asia Times: Tue 4 Jan 2011

      Bangkok – A chorus of international calls is on the rise to end the economic and financial sanctions Western countries led by the United States have maintained against Myanmar’s military regime. Business lobbies and the global aid industry have jumped at November’s rigged elections and the release of pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest as a public relations opportunity to push their narrow objectives in Myanmar, also known as Burma.

      I was once among the Burmese dissidents who in the 1990s helped to build an international campaign for sanctions against Myanmar’s rights-abusing regime. A decade later, I publicly challenged what was then known as the pro-sanctions orthodoxy, particularly when it became apparent that Washington’s blanket sanctions were about to kill off the country’s fledging garment industry that employed a large number of ordinary workers.

      Seven years on, I am speaking out against the new anti-sanctions lobby. The called-for policy shift overlooks the elephant in the room, namely the predatory and callous ruling military elite and the state organs they use as instruments for rent-seeking and repression. Western punitive measures, including economic sanctions and

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