[Readingroom] News on Burma - 19/8/11
- Suu Kyi invited to national-level workshop on economic development
- Myanmar government urges peace talks with ethnic rebels
- Human rights abuses at gas pipeline
- Signs of change but Burmese govt must do much more
- Panglong is the foundation of human rights in Burma
- President invites Burmese abroad to return home; urges armed groups to surrender
- Myanmar papers lift slogans attacking foreign media
- Land seizures ongoing: Mon NGO
- Enhanced ties between Sri Lanka and Myanmar
- NLD offers young members political training course in Bangkok
- Building civil society in Burma
- Energy companies silent in Myanmar
- Will Naypyidaw’s olive branch bear fruit?
- Growing numbers of displaced Kachin suffer from Burmese regime’s blockage of aid
- Myanmar cuts export tax to help offset currency strength
- Dams on Burma’s Irrawaddy River becomes a national cause
- Myanmar government urges Suu Kyi to register party
- Suu Kyi, Burmese gov’t agree to work together to avoid conflicting views
- New Myanmar government to drop foreign exchange certificates
- How sanctions made Burma’s richest man
- Burmese army exploits prisoners
- Myanmar gov’t appoints team to spread information
- Burma pursues divide-and-rule policy for ethnic issue
- North Korea seeking rice deal with Myanmar
- IMF to help Myanmar unify multiple exchange rates
Suu Kyi invited to national-level workshop on economic development
Mizzima News: Thu 18 Aug 2011
Chiang Mai – A last-minute official invitation to attend a national-level workshop on economic development was delivered by hand to the home of Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday. President Thein Sein will also attend the workshop to be held in Naypyitaw, the capital. Members of the workshop organizing committee on Wednesday went to Suu Kyi’s home on University Avenue Road in Rangoon to deliver an official invitation. Suu Kyi is the general-secretary of the National League for Democracy.
This will be the first official function attended by both President Thein Sein and Suu Kyi, who was released from house arrest late last year.
Government officials, political party representatives and businessmen will attend the workshop.
“She received the invitation letter yesterday. She has been invited to attend the workshop on Friday and Saturday,” NLD spokesman Nyan Win said.
In response to a Mizzima question, he said that he did not know whether Suu Kyi would attend or not, but another party source said that Suu Kyi had agreed to attend as an observer.
The workshop will be held in the Myanmar International Convention Centre in Naypyitaw.
Three representatives from each of the 37 political parties that contested in the 2010 election have been invited to the workshop. Two ministers and up to three businessmen from each of the 14 states or regions have also been invited to attend.
Myanmar government urges peace talks with ethnic rebels – Aung Hla Tun
Reuters: Thu 18 Aug 2011
Yangon – Myanmar’s new government on Thursday called for peace talks with armed separatists along its borders with Thailand and China, the latest in a series of conciliatory gestures towards long-time opponents of the former military regime. In a statement read out on national television, it urged rebel groups engaged in conflict with the military to contact regional governments and start dialogue as soon as possible.
Numerous ethnic militias have battled for decades with the central government, to preserve de facto autonomy held by groups like the Shan, Wa, Kachin, Karen and Mon. Ceasefires have been agreed previously, but no political deals have ever been made.
“Ethnic armed groups, which are willing to work for peace after resolving armed conflicts, are invited to contact respective state/division governments,” said a statement attributed to cabinet secretary, Tin Myo Kyi. “After that, the union government will form a delegation to have peace talks.”
Myanmar’s army has battled since June with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and has also clashed with the Shan State Army. Both Shan and Kachin states border China, the country’s biggest economic ally, which is concerned conflicts will harm its energy interests in the region.
Separate clashes have also taken place along the eastern border with Thailand between government troops, ethnic Mon rebels and the powerful Karen National Union.
In the run up to an election last year, the first in two decades, the military junta ordered ethnic groups to disarm and join the political process, promising to give militias a job in an army-run Border Guard Force and hinting strongly the groups would be crushed if they refused.
Several smaller groups agreed, but the larger armies ignored the call. Although there has been low-level fighting this year, no major government offensive have so far been launched.
The government rarely acknowledges publicly that its troops are engaged in combat with ethnic militias but in a televised speech Wednesday, President Thein Sein said state officials in Kachin had been in talks with the KIA and he hoped for a peaceful solution.
The government’s rare public call for peace comes three weeks after democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi wrote an open letter to Thein Sein offering to mediate between the government and the different rebel groups, saying reconciliation “could not be achieved through military means.
Suu Kyi was released from a seven-year stint of house arrest in November last year and has been a staunch advocate of autonomy under a federal republic for at least three of Myanmar’s ethnic groups.
Suu Kyi has called for a “Second Pinlong Agreement,” a revival of a peace plan drafted in 1947 and backed by her late father, independence hero Aung San. He was assassinated soon after the draft and the deal was never put into effect.
The public call from the four-month-old, nominally civilian government, was the latest in a series of olive branches offered by the notoriously reclusive leadership in recent weeks.
Suu Kyi, 66, whom the previous military dictatorship kept in detention for a total of 15 years before her release last November, has twice held talks in recent weeks Labour Minister Aung Kyi. Both sides have expressed optimism the they can cooperate to help bring peace to the country.
The government Thursday invited Suu Kyi to join a workshop on economic development and reforms, starting on Friday, in the new capital Naypyitaw, her spokesman said.
Suu Kyi is seen as critical to Myanmar’s future and has a tremendous influence over Western governments, which have maintained economic sanctions on the new administration.
Many analysts believe the government’s gestures towards engagement and reform could be genuine but say it is likely the retired generals running the country are using Suu Kyi to gain leverage with the West and boost their image at home and abroad.
(Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Miral Fahmy)
Human rights abuses at gas pipeline – Sai Zom Hseng
Irrawaddy: Thu 18 Aug 2011
Land confiscations and other human rights violations have been reported in northern Shan State during the last few weeks since the start of the Shwe pipeline project to export gas and oil to China. Problems have mainly occurred in Kyaukme and Hsipaw townships where the pipeline passes on its way to Kunming, China. Two other affected areas of northern Shan State are Kutkhai and Pang Hsai townships.
A local resident from Hsipaw Township, who gave his name as Sai Tun, said that although the local authorities did not confiscate his land, they forced him to rent it to them at much lower than the market value. However, he did not know the money actually came from a private company involved in the pipeline project.
“The authorities said that they want to use my land and would give me 500,000 kyats (US $665) for one acre per month as a fee. But they didn’t tell me why they wanted my land and what they are going to do with it,” said Sai Tun.
Sai Tun explained that hiring out land makes the landowner jobless. “Other landowners from my village also face the same situation as me but with different rental fees. But 500,000 kyats is the minimum price that they gave us,” he added.
“I don’t think the price is enough for our land because I have seen that they are digging everywhere. When they return my land back, what am I supposed to do with that destroyed land?” asked Sai Tun.
He explained that the pipeline passes five or six miles away from Hsipaw, and that there are at least a dozen landowners who have been forced by the authorities to rent their land.
The Asia World Co. Ltd.—owned by Steven Law (aka Tun Myint Naing)—is the main constructor of the pipeline projects in northern Shan State. Htoo Trading Co. Ltd.—owned by Burmese business tycoon Tay Za who has close links to former junta members—is also approaching Burmese leaders to obtain pipeline building projects.
The Memorandum of Understanding of the Shwe Gas Project was signed by the former military regime’s second leader, Vice Sen-Gen Maung Aye, during a trip to China in 2009 where he met Chinese Vice-President Xi Jingping. China is the only nation currently buying natural gas from Burma, netting the Burmese government at least US $1 billion per year.
The former Burmese regime has not only agreed to sell China natural gas, but also to build a transit oil pipeline to move fuel from the Middle East to China through the Southeast Asian nation.
Thailand-based Shwe Gas Movement (SGM)—a pressure group opposed to the Burmese government’s Shwe Gas project—said that Burma will get at least $30 million every year from over 4,000 kms of transit oil pipeline.
Wong Aung, a global coordinator of SGM, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday: “This project will negatively affect local people living near to the pipeline site. They will face human rights violations including losing their jobs and land.
“This project is very important for China in political, military and economic fields, and so it always protects the Burmese government in the international community. That’s why the Burmese government cannot refuse what China desires.”
He added that the pipeline could even cause a civil war because it would go through ethnic areas, and could cause even more human rights violations such as land confiscation, forced labor and illegal detentions.
The Shan State Army (SSA) is currently operating in Kyaukme and Hsipaw townships. SSA spokesman Maj Sai Hla said that they have no plans to start attacking the pipeline project, but would do if they think it has been harming local people and the Shan community.
Signs of change but Burmese govt must do much more – Editorial
The Nation (Thailand): Thu 18 Aug 2011
Enhanced role for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is a positive development but Asean must remain cautious about the military’s motives. It seems the Burmese regime in Napyidaw has been doing the right thing regarding opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi over the past few weeks. The recent meeting in Rangoon with Labour Minister U Aung Gyi gave the impression that the Thein Sein administration was heeding international appeals, including those of Asean, to promote dialogue with the opposition. Now Suu Kyi has been invited to attend a poverty reduction conference, which she intends to go to. Information Minister Kyaw Hsan has stated that the government has no plan to crack down on Suu Kyi or her supporters – in order to help overcome the political divide with them. More activities should be forthcoming that will promote national reconciliation with the ethnic minorities as well.
Since the November poll last year, there have been high expectations the new administration will carry out economic, political and social reforms. So far there has been very little progress inside the country, and this has led to Asean’s reluctance to say outright whether it will award the 2014 chairmanship of the regional grouping to its often recalcitrant newest member. This is an important issue, and the generals in Napyidaw still have much to do to convince Asean that the country is worthy of holding the chairmanship. Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa will not be scheduled to visit Burma if there is insufficient progress on matters of concern to the international community. After all, if he does visit the country in the near future, it would be tantamount to a rubber stamp for the future Asean chair.
The best development would be Suu Kyi’s signal that progress is being made. Asean is indeed waiting for her views regarding the outcome of her talks with the authorities and her ability to engage with broader society, especially her supporters in outlying provinces. At present, her personal rapport with Asean, especially its representatives in Napyidaw, has been strengthened following her release from house arrest last year ahead of the November election. Prior to her release, she had virtually no contact with Asean.
At this juncture, Suu Kyi’s views from the inside would be crucial to justify any positive move from Asean, especially regarding the 2014 chairmanship. While Asean will eventually award the chair to Burma at some point in the future, it wants to do so without losing respect and face in the international community. Burma’s readiness to host a regional or international summit is not a real issue because it has the capacity and ability to do so. Concrete political progress is more important.
The admission of Burma to the grouping in 1997 was an easier process without much thought over the international pressure that was brought to bear. But these days, there will be greater complications if Asean does not take into account the sentiments of key Western dialogue partners. Washington has said repeatedly that the Burmese chair should add value to Asean’s reputation.
There is one caveat: Whatever reform undertakings are going on inside Burma, they must be sustained at all costs. Otherwise, they will just serve as scaffolding schemes for the military leaders to succeed in their political manoeuvres. Their persistence on the seven-point “road map” finally paid off against all international criticism and sanctions, but they need to do much more to facilitate real and meaningful change.
If Asean’s doubts continue unabated about Burma’s political future, the grouping should be willing to wait before awarding the country such a high-profile role on the international stage. The stakes are too high forAsean to afford another mistake.
Shan scholar: Panglong is the foundation of human rights in Burma
Shan Herald Agency for News: Thu 18 Aug 2011
Sai Seng Wan, Shan academic working with the Restoration Council of Shan State / Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), presenting his paper at the 4th International Conference on Human Rights and Development at Bangkok’s prestigious Chulalongkorn University today, says without going back to the Panglong Agreement, the pre-independence alliance pact between Burma and the Frontier Areas, the human rights issue in Burma, particularly in Shan State, will never be resolved. “Human Rights in Shan State are inseparable from the Panglong Agreement”, he said. “Not daring to invoke the Panglong Agreement in solving the union’s problems is similar to walking with a piece of cloth fastened over one’s eyes.”
Panglong, signed on 12 February 1947 by Gen Aung San on Burma’s side and Sao Hkun Pan Sing, Sinwa Naw, U Hlur Hmung and others for Federated Shan States, Kachin Hills and Chin Hills respectively, had promised “Full autonomy in internal administration” and “rights and privileges which are regarded as fundamental in democratic countries.”
Soon after Independence, the Kuomintang forces led by Chiang Kai-shek, defeated by Mao Zedong’s Communist forces, retreated to Shan State. On the pretext of fighting against the KMT, the Burma Army then occupied Shan State, setting up military bases in “areas such as Yawnghwe, Kalaw, Taunggyi, Mongpawn, Loilem, Laikha and Mongkeung where there were no signs of the KMT.”
Human rights violations committed by the Burma Army even before the union was 10 years old included extrajudicial killings, beatings, tortures, rapes (including a Buddhist nun who was killed afterwards), arbitrary detention, forced labor, forced portering, forced requisition of vehicles, forced relocations and enslavement “amounting to committing ethnic cleansing.”
On the Shan side, its leaders had made efforts to deal with the issue politically notably by hosting the Inter States Seminar in 1961 to amend the 1947 constitution and by the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) led by Hkun Tun Oo that won the most seats in Shan State in the 1990 elections. Most of them including Khun Tun Oo ended in imprisonment.
Seng Wan suggests a 5-point proposition, based on Panglong, for the ending of Burma’s woes:
• Withdrawal of the Burma Army (which is not a Union Army but a Burmese/Burman Army) from Shan State and other ethnic areas
• For Burma Proper to have its own separate state
• To set up a central government with an equal number of representatives from each state
• To draft a new constitution that ensures equal rights for each state
• To set up a union armed forces managed jointly by every member state
Many Burmese/Burman leaders are afraid of Panglong due to the inclusion of the invisible clause: Right of Secession. “They shouldn’t,” said Seng Wan, “because Shan State has technically become separate since the 1947 constitution, born out of Panglong, was declared null and void in 1962.”
Groups fighting for democracy also need not fear Panglong either. “The path of Shan State independence and the path of the democratic forces are interdependent and supportive of each other,” he said. “We are fighting against a common enemy. When our respective goal is reached, we can form a new union like the European Union.”
Seng Wan’s presentation will be between 17:00-18:00 today. Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN) that achieved fame with License To Rape: The Burmese military regime’s use of sexual violence in the ongoing war in Shan State will also be participating in the forum, represented by Nang Zarm Hawm.
President invites Burmese abroad to return home; urges armed groups to surrender
Mizzima News: Wed 17 Aug 2011
Rangoon – President Thein Sein reportedly invited Burmese citizens who live in foreign countries to come back home to Burma, and he urged armed groups to surrender to the government, during a meeting in Naypyitaw on Wednesday.
Thein Sein, who met with representatives from social and business organizations at the Myanmar Convention Centre in Naypyitaw, said that Burmese citizens who had gone abroad for different reasons would be allowed to return to Burma. More than 40 organizations were invited to attend the 20-minute meeting with the president.
But, the invitation is not a general amnesty, but rather an invitation for them to work for the development of the nation. He said that armed groups should surrender to state officials or regional governments as soon as possible.
Thein Sein said that if people who have committed crimes came back to Burma, their sentences would be commuted but those who committed serious crimes would be held accountable.
Many exiled political organizations said that the government’s invitation was “meaningless” because it was not a general amnesty.
“They should release all political prisoners, establish genuine peace everywhere and hold all-inclusive political dialogues. They did not do those things, and they invited back Burmese citizens in foreign countries just to show off. Such an empty invitation, saying it just to show off, is meaningless and unnatural,” said Ngwe Lin, the general-secretary of the Democratic Party for a New Society.
Meanwhile, on the political front, the Ministry of Home Affairs has said that it will allow the Free Funeral Service Society (Rangoon) to officially register as a civic charity organization.
“It is a blessing for people who are doing charity work. It will bring benefits to the people, and it encourages me,” said Kyaw Thu, the chairman of Free Funeral Service Society (Rangoon).
Myanmar papers lift slogans attacking foreign media
Reuters: Wed 17 Aug 2011
Yangon – Myanmar’s state-run newspapers dropped back-page banners attacking Western media for the first time in four years on Wednesday, the latest indication its new government could be softening its stance towards opposition voices. Three official newspapers dropped half-page slogans that were running daily, accusing the Voice of America (VOA) and the British Broadcasting Corp (BBC) of “sowing hatred among the people”, and other Western media of “generating public outrage”.
The slogans also told readers not to be swayed by “killer broadcasts designed to cause troubles”. They had been a fixture in state newspapers since a bloody army crackdown on monk-led protests in August 2007.
The BBC, VOA and two other foreign news organisations provide local-language news bulletins on short-wave radio frequencies and satellite television that are primary news sources for many people in the former Burma.
Myanmar’s government has long struggled to control overseas’ news. Removing the slogans is seen as the latest gesture of openness since elections last year ended five decades of army rule and ushered in a civilian-led administration.
Some private media, which routinely exercise self-censorship, have run stories recently quoting lawmakers critical of government policies and the country’s reclusive Information Ministry announced last week it had formed a “Spokespersons and Information Team” to assist journalists.
State newspapers have also been less critical of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the figurehead of Myanmar’s democracy movement who was freed last year when her period of house arrest expired.
However, Myanmar’s television media remains strictly controlled by the government, foreign journalists are still mostly barred from legally reporting in the country and most foreign media websites remain blocked.
Most expect Western sanctions to remain in place until an estimated 2,100 political prisoners are released. (Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Editing by Martin Petty and Sanjeev Miglani)
Land seizures ongoing: Mon NGO
Irrawaddy: Wed 17 Aug 2011
Ongoing cases of land confiscation have been reported in Burma’s Shan, Arakan, Mon and Karen states, as well as in Tenasserim Division, according to human rights groups and local sources.
The Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM) released a report on Monday that claims that some 20,000 acres of land have been seized over the past 10 years by the Burmese military in Mon and Karen states and Tenasserim Division.
Nearly 4,000 acres of rubber plantations have reportedly been confiscated since December 2010 from residents of Kywe Thone Nyi Ma Island and the easterly neighboring villages on the mainland in Yebyu Township in Tenasserim by Burmese Navy Unit No. 43, under the command of Ka Dike. The lands were reportedly seized to make way for the construction of navy regional command headquarters, military training grounds and army barracks.
The Zaykabar Company—which is owned by Khin Shwe, a prominent Union Solidarity and Development Party member—reportedly confiscated 800 acres of farmers’ land in Kyaikmayaw Township, Mon State.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, Nai Aue Mon of HURFOM said, “Nearly 240 rubber plantation owners have been made homeless.”
HURFOM has submitted its report to President Thein Sein, to the All Mon Region Democracy Party and the UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur for Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana. Nai Aue Mon said he wants the matter investigated, as well as the group’s allegations of human rights violations by the Burmese army.
Pho Phyu, a lawyer who has previously represented Rangoon and Irrawaddy farmers in land seizure cases, said land confiscations have been taking place in three ways: seizures by the commander-in- chief of the region; by private companies; and by financiers who are backed by the military.
“The government must change its policy on agriculture,” said Pho Phyu. “The government loan of just 20,000 kyat [US $27] per acre to farmers is not enough. They then have to borrow more money from financiers who charge interest. In the end, they cannot repay the loan and lose their land.”
The Yuzana Company was granted 200,000 acres in the Hugawng Valley Tiger Reserve in 2006 to establish tapioca and sugar cane plantations, according to a report by the Kachin Development Networking Group.
Land confiscations by the company evicted some 600 farmers from their lands between 2006 and 2008 without full compensation, and displaced them to areas far from their original homes.
Meanwhile, with the backing of Shan State administration chief Khin Maung Than, Loilem district administrator Kyaw Khaing Soe sold three miles of land beside the Panglong-Lacha highway to a Chinese businessman. He also demarcated land into plots beside the football stadium in Panglong, according to local residents.
“The battalion commander in the region, some of the lecturers from Panglong University and government ministers received those plots,” said an internal source. “The State government didn’t know what they were doing. They backdated the documents to December 2010 because this was during a transition of government.”
Furthermore, land confiscations have been taking place in Arakan State, affecting local residents near the Kyauk Phyu seaport project and gas pipelines that will connect to China.
“We are discussing the farmers’ complaints with State ministers,” said Tin Pe, a State and Region candidate from the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party. “But I don’t know the result yet.”
Enhanced ties between Sri Lanka and Myanmar
Asian Tribune: Wed 17 Aug 2011
Colombo – Sri Lanka’s Deputy Minister of External Affairs Neomal Perera receiving Myanmar’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs U Maung Myint at Sri Lanka’s Ministry of External Affairs. Myanmar’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs U Maung Myint, on a bilateral visit to Sri Lanka, called on Deputy Minister of External Affairs Neomal Perera at the Ministry of External Affairs on 15th of August.
During the bilateral discussions both Sri Lanka and Myanmar pledged to further enhance and consolidate relations between the two countries based on cultural and religious affiliations which date back to many centuries.
The Myanmar Deputy Minister gave an updated account of the political process underway in the country, highlighting the recent election of the new Constitutional Government of the Union of the Republic of Myanmar. He reiterated their firm commitment to further strengthening democracy in the country.
Extending the personal best wishes of the President and the Foreign Minister of Myanmar to the President and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, the visiting envoy congratulated Sri Lanka on the successful elimination of terrorism and steering the country towards economic and social development.
Deputy Minister Perera identified the need for connectivity as a priority area in further enhancing opportunities for collaboration between the two countries, particularly with the advent of peace and stability in the country.
Both sides acknowledged the need to convene the 3rd session of the Joint Commission in Myanmar at a mutually convenient time towards the latter part of 2011. The gem and jewellery sector, trade in services and Buddhist circuit tourism were focused upon as potential areas for a collaborative partnership.
While recalling the State visit of the President to Myanmar in 2009 for the 60th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations, Myanamar visiting envoy reiterated the need for high level visits in the future and proposed to have a mechanism in place for Foreign Ministry level consultations.
The Deputy Minister of Myanmar who arrived in Sri Lanka at the invitation of the Deputy Minister of External Affairs would be in the country from 15th – 18th August 2011. During his stay, he called on the Minister of External Affairs, Prof. G. L. Peiris. He also visited Anuradhapura and Kandy and held discussions with the Chief Minister of the North Central Province and expressed resolve to work towards strengthening religious ties between the two countries.
NLD offers young members political training course in Bangkok
Mizzima News: Wed 17 Aug 2011
Chiang Mai – National League for Democracy (NLD) Vice Chairman Tin Oo organized a political science training course for members of the NLD youth wing and Youth Network in Bangkok recently. Tin Oo gave a welcoming speech in Rangoon Tuesday to participants who returned from a training workshop held from August 7 to 15 at the Sena Palace Hotel in Bangkok, according to the NLD Web site.
Overseas donors supported the political training trip for young Burmese. The 14 youth who took part flew to Thailand from Burma and returned to Rangoon when the workshop was completed. The classes were taught by foreigners.
As part of their political orientation, they visited the Thai Parliament and the headquarters of Thailand’s opposition Democratic Party.
The NLD has been active in offering education courses and holding meetings to establish networks for young people.
Building civil society in Burma – Editorial
Voice of America: Wed 17 Aug 2011
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi recently made her first political trip outside Rangoon since being released from house arrest. The United States has long encouraged the government of Burma to engage in a meaningful political dialogue with the Southeast Asian nation’s democratic opposition and ethnic minorities. An open and respectful discussion of the issues facing the country and its people provide a means toward national reconciliation and a shared way forward.
It is thus that the U.S. takes note that Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi recently made her first political trip outside Rangoon since being released last fall from a lengthy house arrest. She met with supporters in two towns and comforted victims of recent flooding in the region. Despite concerns voiced in the state-controlled media that the trip could incite unrest, she was met by hundreds of peaceful supporters and the events came off without incident. She also participated in the opening of two libraries during her trip to Bago, valuable investments in education and an important contribution to the growth of civil society. In three speeches, Aung San Suu Kyi called for national unity and urged that the people’s voice be heard in national affairs.
Beyond her trip, Aung San Suu Kyi also has met with the Minister of Labor and Social Welfare Aung Kyi.
Outreach by Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy are an important part of civil society building in Burma. The United States supports such efforts and welcomes initiatives from all parts of Burmese society towards those ends. We continue to call on the Burmese government to ensure that all of its citizens are free to travel, express their views and participate fully in the nation’s political activities.
Energy companies silent in Myanmar
United Press International: Tue 16 Aug 2011
Chiang Mai, Thailand — Energy projects developed by Asian neighbors to Myanmar are in part to blame for regional conflicts and mass displacements, an environmental group claims. Chinese energy companies are working to construct oil and natural gas pipelines across Myanmar. Several dams are planned as well for the Irrawaddy River.
Meanwhile, fighting in the region between the army of Myanmar and several ethnic national groups is creating problems for the civilian population in the northern parts of the country.
EarthRights International notes that civilians are fleeing the area. As many as 30,000 villagers have fled regional fighting.
The advocacy group complains that while mass displacement is growing worse in the region as the fighting intensifies, energy companies in the area remain silent on the issue.
EarthRights International in a statement said this inaction is inexcusable given the level of influence they have over the military and government in Myanmar.
The group says that energy companies working with the government require state security protection for their projects.
Will Naypyidaw’s olive branch bear fruit? – Ba Kaung
Irrawaddy: Tue 16 Aug 2011
Two closed-door meetings between Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Burma’s pro-democracy movement, and Aung Kyi, a Burmese government minister, which were immediately followed by Suu Kyi’s unhindered public tour of a town near Rangoon on Sunday, have generated optimism among her supporters that a rapprochement is under way between the democratic opposition and the new Burmese government. “There is some progress between us and the government, and Daw Suu has asked the minister for a timeframe for the future meetings,” said an official from Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).
Suu Kyi and the government have kept the details of their discussions secret thus far, but sources said that the topics of the two meetings included the release of political prisoners, the armed conflicts in ethnic areas and the status of the NLD, which was officially dissolved last year for failing to register under the election laws.
As a direct result of the meetings, some of the government’s 2,000 plus political prisoners are expected to be released within weeks, according to inside party sources. It is unclear, however, whether those prisoners being released will include prominent dissidents such as former student leader Min Ko Naing.
But even if some prisoners are actually released during this period of apparent détente between the government and Suu Kyi, past periods of leniency have frequently been followed by crackdowns, such as the Depayin massacre and re-arrest of Suu Kyi in 2003.
So the question remains: How substantive will the government’s olive branches will be?
One clear indication will be whether the government officially acknowledges the legal existence of the NLD as a political party, with Suu Kyi as its leader. The NLD has exhausted the country’s legal methods for obtaining renewed legal recognition following its dissolution by the government last year, and have even considered enlisting the help of the UN on the issue.
On Friday, Government information minister Kyaw Hsan said at a press conference in Naypyidaw that the NLD needs to register through the formal procedures.
The move will require the party to agree to a condition under the election laws that states the party will act in accordance with the 2008 Constitution, which was drafted by the previous military regime and the NLD has dismissed as undemocratic—in fact it was the primary reason the party boycotted the 2010 election.
While Suu Kyi has urged her followers to regard the current talks with cautious optimism, there is concern that the government might be using her for public relations purposes only.
Some observers point out that in the coming months, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) will make a final decision on whether to award Burma its 2014 chair, and the government may be using the meetings with Suu Kyi to persuade Asean to act in its favor.
If Burma is given the Asean chair, it will provide much-needed legitimacy for Naypyidaw’s military-dominated government, which came to power through a heavily-criticized election. And because some Asean members and the association’s most influential Western partners have said the case must be decided based on Burma’s political and economic reforms, the government is motivated to put on a good face at this time.
“They are using her [Suu Kyi] as much as they can, as they seek normalization of their deepening and “constitutionalized” class rule as a military-business class in terms of international relations,” said Dr. Zarni, a visiting fellow with the London School of Economics and Political Science.
“They may have figured out that her popularity is that of a pop star, as opposed to a revolutionary figure who will inspire the masses to serious and sustained revolt,” he said. “So the generals obviously have rethought and reworked their approach to containing her.”
In another apparent attempt to project a reformist image, the Burmese government has reportedly sought the help of the International Monetary Fund in modernizing its currency exchange system. And in a related event, the government information minister announced on Friday that the country will withdraw foreign exchange certificates (FECs) from the market.
However, while talk from Naypyidaw related to certain reform topics has become louder, the armed clashes between government troops and the ethnic Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in the north show no signs of slowing.
There is also a reported division among the government’s top leadership, consisting of areformist group led by President Thein Sein and a conservative hard-line camp led by Vice-President Tin Aung Myint Oo.
If the reports prove true, Thein Sein will have to go to great lengths if he chooses to fight against the entrenched corruption and bureaucratic intransigence within the system, as well as the interest groups dependent on it.
It is noteworthy that the country’s state-run newspapers portrayed Tin Aung Myint Oo in a strong positive light on their front pages for two consecutive days last week—he was seen greeting flood victims in Mon State and telling local authorities that the new government in Naypyidaw is effectively exercising executive, legislative and judiciary powers in line with the Constitution.
“The coverage aims to show the tooth of the conservative forces in the government, and we have yet to see some sort of consensus among the top ranks,” said the leader of a major political party represented in the national Parliament, who described the situation as more of an internal conflict than a power struggle.
So despite the positive signals emerging from talks with Suu Kyi, there is still confusion and uncertainty over the direction Burma’s government is heading, as well as its motivations.
Growing numbers of displaced Kachin suffer from Burmese regime’s blockage of aid
Kachin Women’s Association Thailand: Tue 16 Aug 2011
The refusal of Burma’s military regime to allow international aid to the growing numbers of war-affected Kachin is causing critical hardship for these displaced communities. Ongoing atrocities by the Burma Army troops, despite continuing ceasefire negotiations with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), are driving increased numbers of villagers to flee to towns or border areas. Numbers of displaced along the mountainous China-Burma border have risen from 16,000 in July to nearly 20,000, sheltering in 15 makeshift camps. Over 3,000 are seeking refuge in the Kachin capital Myitkyina and the nearby town of Waimaw.
On August 9, a 39-year-old woman and her 17-year-old daughter were gang-raped and killed by troops from Burma Army Light Infantry Battalion 37 near Waimaw. On July 31, a 15-year-old boy was shot and killed when he fled from a Burmese patrol near Kamaing, west of Myitkyina.
The regime stated in its August 12 press conference that authorities had opened centres in Kachin towns for the displaced, who were being assisted by various local organizations. In fact, these displaced are mainly sheltering in churches, where local communities are struggling to provide support, and international and local NGOs have been expressly forbidden to assist them.
Tens of thousands of sacks of rice stockpiled in the World Food Program’s Myitkyina storehouse have been untouched since the fighting began on June 9, when the Burma Army broke its 17-year-long ceasefire with the KIA.
Those displaced in camps along the China-Burma border are surviving on donations of rice and occasional other food supplies from local communities. Lack of proper food is starting to cause malnutrition among the children.
“We urge international donors to push for access to the war-affected in Kachin State,” said Shirley Seng, spokesperson of the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand. “They must not stand by while the regime blocks aid to those who desperately need it.”
A map of areas of fighting and displacement in Kachin State can be viewed on www.kachinwomen.com
Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT) is a non profit-making organization working on behalf of Kachin women. We have a vision of a Kachin State where all forms of discrimination are eliminated; where all women are empowered to participate in decision making at a local, national and international level; and where all Kachin children have the opportunity to fulfill their potential.
Myanmar cuts export tax to help offset currency strength
Reuters: Mon 15 Aug 2011
Yangon – Myanmar cut export taxes on certain goods for the second time in as many months to help exporters who have been hurt by the appreciation in the local currency, the kyat .
Total taxes on export revenue have been cut to 2 percent from 7 percent for six months from Monday, Aug. 15, a senior Commerce Ministry told Reuters, declining to be identified.
Taxes were cut from 10 percent at the end of June.
The kyat has risen around 20 percent against the dollar over the past year.
Despite Western sanctions, investment money has flooded into the country because of its abundant mineral resources and the repatriation of funds by wealthy Burmese buying up state assets last year in a pre-election sell-off.
The seven export items covered by the temporary measure are rice, beans and pulses, sesame, rubber, corn, marine products, and animals and animal products.
Businessmen said the measure did not go far enough.
“It’s a pity the latest measure does not cover some other important export items like garments and wood products,” said Myint Soe, a vice-chairman of the Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MFCCI).
Hotel and tourist sector officials said they were also suffering from the strong kyat. (Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Editing by Alan Raybould)
Dams on Burma’s Irrawaddy River becomes a national cause – Zin Linn
Asian Tribune: Mon 15 Aug 2011
It was noteworthy, the Chairman of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), Lanyaw Zawng Hra sent an official letter dated May 16 to Hu Jintao, the President of the People’s Republic of China urging China to stop the controversial Myitsone dam construction on Irrawaddy River in Kachin State of Burma, Kachin News Group (KNG) said on 23 May, 2011.In the open letter the KIO warned Myitsone and six other hydroelectric power plant projects could lead to civil war between the KIA, the armed wing of the KIO, and the Burmese Army because Burmese troops have been deployed to the KIO control areas to provide security for the dam-construction projects.
According to Kachin News Group, numerous complaint letters concerning construction of the Myitsone dam have been sent to the Burmese and Chinese governments by local people, the Kachin National Consultative Assembly (KNCA) and the KIO. However, no action has been taken to tackle the worries expressed by the Kachin community.
KIO’s official letter to Hu Jintao says, “Except the Dam Project in Mali-N’mai Confluence (Myitsone dam), we have no objections against the other six Hydro Power Plant Projects. However, we have also informed the Asia World Co Ltd to make a decision only after assessing the consequences of the Dam Construction”.
The Kachin Development and Networking Group (KDNG) has warned publicly that the Myitsone dam construction is going to displace 15,000 neighboring Kachin natives and millions of people living downstream of the dam construction location because of inundation.
According to the environmentalist group, thousands of people have been forced to move from their home villages near the 6,000-megawatt dam construction project site. The displaced villagers have to struggle finding new livelihoods, adequate healthcare services and education for their children at new villages, the watchdog group said.
In the past, Kachin people had made an official plea to the former junta’s boss Senior-General Than Shwe to stop the project due to environmental damage. But he always turned a deaf ear to the call. The junta boss regularly obeys the rules of the Chinese authorities over the dam projects.
Construction at Myitsone began December 21, 2009, led by China’s state owned China Power Investment Corporation (CPI) in cooperation with Burma’s Asia World Company (AWC) and the Burmese government’s No. 1 Ministry of Electric Power. Remarkably, AWC owner is former drug lord Lo Hsing Han. As a result, the KIO warned CPI employees not to enter its area in the dam construction sites north of the Mali-N’mai Rivers. The reason was that KIO has stopped cooperating with the Burmese government when the government discontinued the 1994 truce on September 1, 2010.
Environmental activists and researchers say the project will force Kachin villagers to abandon their homes and could face inundation of an area, the size of Singapore, all caused by the government’s eagerness to satisfy China as it needs more power for its growing industrial zones.
According to Burma River Network, the Irrawaddy River provides vital nutrients to wetlands and floodplain areas downstream including the delta region which provides nearly 60% of Burma’s rice. Changes to the river’s flow and the blocking of crucial sediments will affect millions farmers throughout Burma and decrease rice production.
The watchdog network also pointed out that the dams will forever change Burma’s main river ecosystem and an important Asian river. Eighty-four percent of the Irrawaddy River’s water originates above the dam sites and will be affected by these dams. The network said that the dam is located 100 kilometers from a major fault line in an earthquake-prone area; if the dam breaks, it will flood Kachin State’s capital city of 150,000 that lies just 40 kilometers downstream of the dam.
In a statement issued on 11 August (Thursday), Burma’s Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi said the dam endangers the flow of the Irrawaddy River, which she described as “the most significant geographical feature of our country.” She warned that 12,000 people from 63 villages have been relocated, although an article in the government-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper Wednesday reported that 2,146 people had been ordered to leave their homes and relocated.
Suu Kyi recently released a letter calling on promoters of the Myitsone dam project to reassess the plan, pointing out concerns that dams on the Irrawaddy River damage the environment, decrease rice production, dislodge ethnic peoples. Besides, it would hurt livelihoods of local communities and there is a risk of possible destructive earthquakes.
“We believe that, taking into account the interests of both countries, both governments would hope to avoid consequences which might jeopardize lives and homes,” Suu Kyi emphasized. “To safeguard the Irrawaddy is to save from harm our economy and our environment, as well as to protect our cultural heritage,” she added.
One can find an environmental impact assessment on Thailand-based Burma Rivers Network web-site which was conducted by a team of Burmese and Chinese scientists. The 945-page “environmental impact assessment,” fully funded by China’s CPI Corporation and conducted by a team of Burmese and Chinese scientists, recommends not proceeding with the Irrawaddy Myitsone Dam. “There is no need for such a big dam to be constructed at the confluence of the Irrawaddy River” says the assessment.
Building of dams has become also a rising political issue in China’s relations with countries in Southeast Asia; a region increasingly dependent on the watercourse of rivers may perhaps reduce their capacity to irrigate paddy fields.
The Burmese government state media has continued saying that the Myitsone dam project will not produce negative impact on the watercourse of the Irrawaddy or on the livelihoods of the native inhabitants.
Local ethnic populace has been displaced from their homes to make way for dams and reservoirs. But construction companies close to the authorities benefit from those dams. They receive millions of dollars for designing and building dams. The government officials also gain black earnings in many ways – illegal taxes, kickbacks and inducement – during building of a dam.
Anyhow, Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s most distinguished opposition figure, may heighten international reaction of the Myitsone dam project which seriously disapproved by environmental and human rights groups. The dam projects are, however, creating widespread political criticism countrywide for the national interest.
Myanmar government urges Suu Kyi to register party
Associated Press: Fri 12 Aug 2011
Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar – Myanmar’s government urged pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday to officially register her National League for Democracy as a party, a step that would imply its acceptance of the government’s legitimacy and also allow it to legally take part in politics. Information Minister Kyaw Hsan’s suggestion at a rare news conference came two days before Suu Kyi plans to make her first political foray into the countryside since her release from seven years of house arrest last November.
It also came as she held a second meeting with a government minister in what appeared to be preliminary talks on establishing a dialogue.
Kyaw Hsan said the government has not cracked down on the NLD’s failure to register in the interests of national reconciliation.
If Suu Kyi’s group reaches an accommodation with the government, it could serve as a reason for Western nations to lift political and economic embargoes on the country that have hindered development and pushed it into dependence on neighboring China.
What Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi would expect in exchange for registering her party is unclear, though it could include the freedom of some of the country’s 2,000 political prisoners.
The previous military government ordered the NLD’s dissolution after it refused to register for last November’s general election, which it called unfair and undemocratic. The NLD contends its deregistration by the government was illegal, but a lawsuit seeking its reinstatement was dismissed. It nonetheless continues to carry out organized activities.
A new nominally civilian elected government took power in March. However, it is led by retired military figures, and the constitution ensures that the military retains dominance.
Suu Kyi’s last political trip to the countryside in 2003 drew huge crowds but also the wrath of the then-ruling military junta, whose supporters ambushed her entourage. She was detained and later placed under house arrest.
The state-controlled media have warned her against making political trips, saying they could trigger chaos and riots.
Also on Friday, Suu Kyi held her second meeting with Labor and Social Welfare Minister Aung Kyi. They met previously on July 25, though details of those talks were not announced.
Kyaw Hsan said both sides agreed Friday to work “toward more cooperation in implementing democracy according to the constitution,” but gave no details.
He added that future meetings were in the works.
Suu Kyi, who has spent most of the past two decades under house arrest, has repeatedly asked for a dialogue with the government. Previous such initiatives have never gotten far.
Suu Kyi’s party overwhelmingly won a 1990 general election but was barred from taking power by the army.
Suu Kyi, Burmese gov’t agree to work together to avoid conflicting views – Te Te
Mizzima News: Fri 12 Aug 2011
New Delhi – Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and a government representative, Minister Aung Kyi, on Friday agreed in a four-point statement to avoid conflicting views and to work on a reciprocal basis.
It was the second meeting this year between the minister and Suu Kyi at a government guesthouse in Rangoon.
The meeting lasted 50 minutes. After the meeting, Aung Kyi read a joint statement to reporters.
The statement’s four points are:
1. Will cooperate with the government for stability and development in the country to fulfill the necessary aspirations of the people.
2. Will cooperate constructively for the flourishing of democracy in the country and better development in economic and social works.
3. Will avoid conflicting views and focus on mutual cooperation.
4. Will continue the meetings.
Responding to a reporter’s question on whether there had been real progress in the meetings, Suu Kyi said, “If there is cooperation, there must be progress in ethnic affairs and all other things including the media.”
Responding to an open letter sent by Suu Kyi to the newly formed government and ethnic armed groups calling for a nationwide cease-fire, Aung Kyi said, “This is one of the agendas under our cooperation.”
He said, “Cooperation is badly needed in our country, and it is a major issue. If we can resolve this issue, other issues will be resolved more easily.”
Aung Kyi is the minister of social welfare, relief and resettlement. He and democratic opposition leader Suu Kyi met previously on July 25. At that meeting, both sides said their talks were productive, but they did not disclose details of the meeting.
Three days after that meeting, Suu Kyi issued an open letter calling for peace between the government and ethnic armed groups. Similarly, she issued a statement on Thursday expressing her concerns over the building of Myitsone Dam on the Irrawaddy River in eastern Burma.
Burma observers said it is apparent that the government has made a decision to reach out to Suu Kyi in an effort to use her influence and prestige in connection with serious issues that face Burma, including poverty, a civil war, a stagnant economy, currency concerns, the environment and other matters.
On the other hand, some observers said the government might be trying to compromise Suu Kyi’s autonomy and soften her criticism of the government and the former military leadership.
Currently, Burma is seeking the chair of Asean for 2014 even as there are calls from the international community for a UN Commission of Inquiry to investigate charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against the former military regime.
Among the concerns that Suu Kyi has repeatedly addressed is the immediate release of all political prisoners in Burmese jails, which now number more than 2,000 prisoners.
New Myanmar government to drop foreign exchange certificates
Deustche Press Agentur: Fri 12 Aug 2011
Naypyitaw, Myanmar – Myanmar’s new government is planning to withdraw foreign exchange certificates (FECs) from the market, after imposing them on foreigners for almost two decades, officials said Friday. ‘In the near future there will be no more FECs, just kyat and foreign currencies,’ Information Minister Kyaw Hsan told a press conference, one of the first held by Myanmar’s new elected government since it took office in April.
The FECs were first introduced in 1993 as a means of keeping foreign currency under government control.
Visiting foreign tourists were required to purchase 200 US dollars worth of FECs at the airport on arrival and foreign businessmen and aid workers were required to use the FEC for official transactions, often at an exchange rate loss.
The FEC was intended to prevent all foreign exchange from being traded on the black market, which offered rates of about 1,000 kyat to the dollar compared with the government’s official rate of 6 kyat to the dollar and 450 kyat for one FEC.
‘Burma’s multiple exchange rates make conversion and repatriation of foreign exchange very complex, and ripe for corruption,’ one US State Department report said of the system.
In recent months, the local kyat currency has strengthened against the dollar and FEC, apparently on account of a huge influx of dollars into the economy.
Kyaw Hsan said holders of FECs should not worry, because the government will buy back the currency from them with dollars or kyat, although he did not specify at what rates.
How sanctions made Burma’s richest man
Financial Times (UK): Fri 12 Aug 2011
Standing outside his Rangoon home in a light summer rain, surrounded by some of the world’s most expensive automobiles, Tay Za admits that he does not drive that often and cannot name the model of Ferrari that he is standing next to – just one of his 20-30 cars. “Actually, I bought them for the pride of Myanmar,” he says.
Mr Tay Za is believed to be Burma’s richest businessman. He has also notched up another superlative: he is number one on the European Union’s sanctions list of “persons who benefit from government economic policies”.
European and US nationals are banned from doing business with him – and his estranged wife, oldest son, mother, brother or sister-in-law. Yet his wine cellar is stocked with a series of vintages from Chateaux Petrus and Margaux, while a Rolls-Royce and a Lamborghini stand next to the Ferrari. His palatial Rangoon home sits down the street from the dilapidated villa where Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi spent more than 15 years under house arrest.
He declines to put a value on his wealth. But he does acknowledge that the sanctions imposed on Burma, which were ramped up in 2005, have made him richer and the government more powerful. He continues to trade with China but independent critics say that western sanctions have prevented the emergence of a broader business class.
“There was more opportunity because there was less competition,” he says. “Our government never considers sanctions because after sanctions [were imposed] they became stronger and stronger.”
Mr Tay Za got his start in the late 1980s, just as Burma was emerging from the chaos of General Ne Win’s ruinous “Burmese Path to Socialism”, which included mass nationalisation and a decision to make all bank notes divisible by nine, among other policies.
He says he joined other students on the streets in anti-government protests in 1988, but in the early 1990s he realised there were opportunities in the timber industry and set up Htoo Trading to take advantage.
“People didn’t have the confidence to invest in this part of the business, so we were the ones to take risks,” he says. He describes buying standing timber at a price of $10 a tree: “No one was buying at that time because people didn’t believe in Myanmar yet,” he says. Three years later each tree was worth $500-$600.
The Htoo Group now has some 60,000 permanent employees, while Mr Tay Za’s assets range from timber to tourism, banking and gemstones.
The sanctions that he says have helped to enrich him are now the focus of a bitter international debate. Some argue they have been counter-productive and should be progressively lifted, while others counter that they should remain until there is measurable improvement in the indices of democracy.
Burma held its first democratic elections in more than 20 years last November and while there is widespread evidence that the ballot was rigged to favour allies of the military regime that had run the country for almost four decades, there have been hopes that the move to a nominally civilian government four months ago could herald a change in the way the country functions, particularly economically.
Mr Tay Za, sitting on a sofa upholstered in pale crocodile skin, says that sanctions have had a more damaging effect on the people of Burma, one of the poorest countries in Asia. “The main issue is sanctions: for the basic people, for development it is sanctions,” he says.
This argument may be self-interested but it is also increasingly mainstream.
“Sanctions have severely retarded the development of a broad professional and business class, the very class that will be vital for a successful democratic transition,” says Thant Myint-U, an author and Burma analyst.
Burmese army exploits prisoners – David Scott Mathieson
Fri 12 Aug 2011
Chiang Mai, Thailand — When I interviewed 20-year-old Tun Tun Aung (not his real name) he had a bullet wound in his shoulder that had shattered his arm.
He was shot escaping the Burmese army early this year, after weeks of service as a front-line porter.
The army usually coerces civilians on Burma’s periphery into this work, forcing ethnic villagers to carry military supplies through conflict zones.
For major military operations, however, they gather hundreds of convicted prisoners, who are considered more disposable. Many do not return. Lucky survivors like Tun Tun Aung escape to Thailand
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