Monday, January 30, 2012

Suu Kyi campaigns in Dawei


Monday, 30 January 2012 12:29 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – Burmese voters got their first real taste of Aung San Suu Kyi the political campaigner on Sunday as thousands of supporters greeted her in Dawei, the site of a huge industrial project planned for southern Burma.

A smiling Aung San Suu Kyi waves to the crowd upon arrival in Dawei, the site of an industrial project that could provide an energy and shipping corridor to Southeast Asian countries.
Thousands gathered along the roads, villages and towns to see the 66-year-old Nobel peace prize winner who spoke sounding like a Western-style politician seeking votes for her party, the National League for Democracy, which will contest all empty seats in the Parliament in the April 1 by-election.

“There are certain laws which are obstacles to the freedom of the people, and we will strive to abolish these laws within the framework of the Parliament,” Suu Kyi said to widely enthusiastic supporters waving NLD flags and wearing T-shirts with Suu Kyi’s picture, according to Reuters news group. She spoke after meeting officials of her NLD party in Dawei.

NLD officials said Suu Kyi will travel to Mandalay to campaign in early February before campaigning for her own seat in a poor, rural constituency on the southern outskirts of Rangoon.

While speaking to the crowd in Dawei, about 380 kilometres south of Rangoon, she outlined what sounded like an NLD campaign agenda. She wants to revise a 2008 army-drafted Constitution that gives the military authority to take control of the country in a state of emergency and to occupy a quarter of the seats in parliament. Observers say that would require support of other opposition parties, but even then it could not be accomplished without support of the ruling party, the government-back Union Solidarity and Development Party.

“We need to amend certain parts of the Constitution,” she said, adding the international community was poised to help Burma with development aid “once we are on an irreversible road to democracy,” Reuters quoted her saying.

Alluding to Burma’s long history of ethnic conflicts, and the fighting that has taken place since June between the government and ethnic Kachins, she said, “Diversity is not something to be afraid of, it can be enjoyed. If there is a person who remains without independence, it means the entire country lacks independence.”

A diplomat who heard her speech, said: “She's becoming more and more explicitly political and talking about the importance of policies,” according to Reuters.

Suu Kyi said the elections must be “free and fair,” and that any government that lies must be removed.

Agence France Press news agency quoted her as telling supporters: “If we move in the right direction our country will have many opportunities. We are eager to seize them.”

The Burmese government plans to build a huge industrial complex in Dawei, which is projected to be energy and shipping corridor that could transform the Southeast Asia region. It is largely funded by neighboring Thailand.

Earlier this month the authorities cancelled plans for a coal-fired power plant in the project because of environmental concerns, a move seen as a victory for local activists and a sign that the government is beginning to listen to the grassroots people.

Suu Kyi was under house arrest for much of the past 20 years, when the NLD won the 1990 election in Burma by a landslide. It was not allowed to take power.

Suu Kyi said the elections must be “free and fair,” and that any government that lies must be removed.

“Will never cheat the people,” she told the crowd. “If we cannot do, we will tell you frankly that we cannot do. And if we can do it, we will do it,” she said at Maungmagan beach near Dawei, according to Reuters. “For the NLD to do its duty, please vote for the NLD.”         

SSA-North signs two peace agreements


Monday, 30 January 2012 19:56 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – The Shan State Progressive Party and the Shan State Army-North (SSAN) signed two peace agreements with the government peacemaking team on Saturday.

The agreements were signed in Taunggyi, the Shan State capital, according to Maj Sai La, the SSAN spokesman.

One agreement included the resettlement of the party and army around Wanhai, the group’s main base; establishing liaison offices in Taunggyi, Lashio and Kholam; informing each side before one one travels in the area controlled by the other; and to hold further meetings, according to the New Light of Myanmar, a state-run newspaper.

The second agreement included the ratification of an earlier agreement; the non-disintegration of the Union, non-disintegration of national unity and perpetuation of national sovereignty on the basis of Panglong Spirit; the two sides will work together for local development, resettlement and improvement of people’s livelihood; and to cooperate in the fight against narcotic drugs
The agreements were signed by Aung Thaung for the Union and Sao Kherh Tai for the SSPP/SSA.

Sai La told the Shan Herald news agency that all Shan groups should join in talks with the central government, and he said he had already asked Hkun Tun Oo, who was released in the January 13 amnesty, to play a leadership role.

Hkun Tun Oo, 68, the leader of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, is widely respected by all Shan groups and other ethnic groups.

The news agency said the SSA-North is the 7th armed movement to sign a cease-fire agreement with Naypyitaw. The remaining major groups that have not signed are the Kachin Independence Organization, Karenni National Progress Party and New Mon State Party.         

Political parties discuss Kaladan project


Monday, 30 January 2012 16:08 Ko Pauk

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Members of eight Burmese political parties arrived in New Delhi on Saturday to discuss the Kaladan River project, a joint India-Burma trade venture.

The two-day meeting is hosted by Jamia Millia Islamia University, said Chin National Party chairman Zam Ciin Paul.
“I want our people to know what the project intends to do, what benefits the people will receive and what disadvantages people will suffer,” said Zam Ciin Paul. “It is in our area, so we want to know about it. As far as I know, our people will get very little benefit. The biggest benefit will go to the Indian government. It also intends to create a trade route to Asean,” said Zam Ciin Paul.

The project will turn the Kaladan River into a shipping route, he said, while adding that nearby paddy fields and bean fields could be damaged because of the intrusion of salty seawater.

“It’s important how much they will expand the river. If they dig, the river will lose its balance. The salt water will enter into the river. If they can’t control the salt water, our paddy fields and bean fields will be damaged. And all the farms near the river will be damaged for sure,” he said.

The Kaladan Multi-modal Transit Transport Project is intended to facilitate trade between India’s Mizoram State and other countries. The project includes dredging the Kaladan River to enable cargo vessels to navigate the river from Sittwe in Burma to Mizoram State in India, and it involves the construction of a river port at Paletwa. It also includes construction of a highway between Paletwa and Mizoram State.

A total of 15 Burmese delegates from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, National Unity Party, National Democratic Force, Democratic Party (Myanmar), Chin National Party, Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), Pa-O National Organization and Inn National Development will attend the meeting.

Along with political parties, some NGOs and social groups including the Metta, Paungku and Thingaha organizations will attend along with Indian MPs, Indian ambassadors, professors, former foreign secretaries of India and the Chief Minister of Nagaland State in India.

The two-day meeting was organized by Jamia Millia Islamia University, the Tampadipa Institute and the Euro-Burma office.         

Burma plans foreign investment tax exemption


Monday, 30 January 2012 15:44 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – Burma will introduce a law in this session of Parliament for an eight-year tax exemption for foreign investors as Western companies have “rushed” to build economic ties, an industrial minister told the Davos Economic Forum on Saturday.

Industry Minister U Soe Thane told reporters that as the country’s democracy reform continues, “They are rushing to us. We are just opening the door,” according to Agency France Press.

The minister said his first visit to Davos had been a success, and he met with many corporate officials who expressed interest in the country. He stressed Burma’s location between India and China, its fishing industry and its people, many of whom speak English, he said.

Deputy railways minister Lwin Thaung told AFP the government was looking to enact radical legislation to attract investors.

“Presently we have a Myanmar investment law which is rather restrictive, but we are now revising it,” he told AFP. “We have hired foreign consultants ... and we have told them to draw up the law so as to be more attractive than our neighbours.”

“It will give tax exemptions for up to eight years and, if the enterprise is profitable for Myanmar, we will extend the incentive. We have already drafted the bill ... and at the end of February the law will come out.”

Earlier, reports said that the European Union is considering lifting some sanctions against Burma as soon as February, according to diplomats in Brussels, and the U.S. has promised further reforms will be met with US rewards.

“Our political reforms are not connected to the pressure from the outside. It is what is good for the people, good for the country and for the whole world community,” Lwin Thaung said.

Burma hopes to see immediate investment is the tourist industry and U Soe said hotels were already struggling to cope with demand.

“Tourism is booming. In Yangon there's no room. And it's not only in Yangon but Mandalay and Inle Lake,” he said in reference to a major tourist attraction.         

Burma tapping into Singapore’s financial expertise


Monday, 30 January 2012 14:59 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – Burmese President Thein Sein began a state visit to Singapore on Sunday, accompanied by a delegation of ministers who are expected to seek expertise in financial areas.

During the visit, which ends on Wednesday, the president will sign a memorandum of understanding on a technical co-operation program. Singapore will provide training for reforms in the legal, banking and financial sectors, according to Agence France Press.

“After so many years of isolation, their capacity to handle the expected inflow of investments and set up the much-needed regulatory frameworks have to be brought up to scratch as quickly as possible,” a source told AFP.

A Southeast Asian diplomat also said Burma needs to train accountants, bankers and other people with technical skills as well as in corporate governance.

“Singapore is the logical place where it can seek help,” said the diplomat, who asked not to be named.

The pact also calls on Singapore to share its best practices in trade, tourism and urban planning.

Observers said Burmese officials are looking on ways to jump start economic programs that will immediately benefit from closer ties with the West.

“If all goes well, Burma certainly looks forward to being welcomed from the political wilderness,” Song Seng Wun, a regional economist with Malaysian bank CIMB, told AFP. “It looks like the Burmese are in a hurry to catch up in the shortest possible time.”

After the official welcome ceremony at the residence of the president of Singapore, Thein Sein will meet Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. President Thein Sein will also have a breakfast meeting with Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.

Singapore, a regional financial centre and a favourite hub for global companies, is often seen as a model by its neighbours.

Thein Sein, a former prime minister and an ex-general who was a member of the junta, was appointed president in February last year after the November 2010 elections.

Airlines starting to look at Burma


Monday, 30 January 2012 14:00 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – With the expected ramp up in tourism in Burma in the coming year, some airlines are wondering how long it will be before they can schedule more flights to benefit from an influx of business people and tourists, in spite of woefully weak infrastructure. 

Emerging democratic reforms are leading to renewed interests in the country after decades of isolation, economic sanctions and a formerly repressive military regime.

Reuters news agency said Monday that Thai Airways International PCL, SilkAir, AirAsia Bhd, and JetStar are seen as the main beneficiaries from the opening up of the country. Each airline has a history of service to the International Airport in Rangoon.

“This is a huge country which will provide new growth for airlines, especially the low cost carriers,” Standard and Poor’s analyst Shukor Yusof told Reuters, adding that the yields that carriers enjoy on Yangon routes have been good.

Besides the lingering patina of British colonial buildings, ancient Buddhist temples and pristine beaches, the country is expected to attract the more adventurous tourists who want something different than the hustle and bustle capitals of Southeast Asia.

During the 2010-2011 (April-March) fiscal year, about 424,000 people visited Burma, according to official data, Reuters said. That compares to around 19 million tourists in Thailand each year.

Thai AirAsia CEO Tassapon Bijleveld told Reuters, “We are considering opening more flights and destinations in Myanmar. We're only operating to Yangon at the moment, but we're currently looking at Mandalay and Bagan.”

Decades of economic failure, a crumbling infrastructure, and a lack of general facilities needed to support the tourism industry are further constraints, said observers.

However, some major hotel operators, including Starwood Hotels & Resorts – which runs chains such as Westin, Sheraton and Le Meridien – and Marriott International said recently that they wanted to start operating hotels in Burma.         

NLD will try to repeal unjust laws


Monday, 30 January 2012 13:15 Ko Pauk

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The National League for Democracy (NLD) plans to try to repeal laws that allow the Burmese government to detain people without trial and other laws used to oppress human rights. 

Senior leader Tin Oo, who is also a member of NLD Law Affairs Committee, told Mizzima that two laws particularly, the Emergency Provisions Act and the Law Safeguarding the State from the Danger of Subversive Elements, popularly known as state protection laws will be the subject of motions to amend or repeal because they restrict human rights or are below the standards of international law.

Some of the laws go back to the British colonial government, he said.

A similar effort was undertaken in the last session of the Parliament. Thein Nyunt, a member of Parliament from the opposition New National Democracy Party, told Mizzima that he moved a motion to repeal and amend such laws during the second session of Parliament convened in September 2011.

“I moved the motion to repeal the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act in last parliament session,” he said. “I also moved a motion to release all political prisoners and grant amnesty, but I got only eight votes,” he said.

The Parliament is dominated by the government-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party and appointed military MPs, who total more than 80 per cent of seats in Parliament. If the NLD should win all contested 46 seats in the April 1 by-election it would hold less than 10 per cent of the seats.

Thein Nyunt said, “We will cooperate will everyone in repealing laws which are repressing people, which are not meeting the norms of international human rights standards.”         

Arakan Liberation Party invited to peace talks


Monday, 30 January 2012 13:28 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – The Burmese government has invited the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP) to attend peace negotiations, a party spokesperson told the Narinjara news agency. 

Khine Thukha, secretary-2 of the ALP, said the party received the request through its armed wing based on the Thai-Burma border on January 23. No date for the talks was available.

"The deputy leader of the regime's Union Level Peace Making Group, Thein Zaw, sent an invitation letter to our Vice President U Khine Soe Naing Aung," Khine Thukha told the website.

The ALP and its armed wing, the Arakan Liberation Army, have been fighting guerrilla wars against the government on the Indo-Burma and Thai-Burma border for the freedom and ethnic rights of Arakanese people in Burma, the website said.

The ALP party and its army were founded in 1973. Its headquarters is based on the Indian border near Arakan State.         
Friday, January 27, 2012

Burma’s censorship dep’t to be abolished?


Friday, 27 January 2012 22:13 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – The director of the Burmese Press Scrutiny and Registration Department (PSRD) repeated claims this week that the department would be abolished in coming months. 

“The new press law, which is still in the process of being enacted, will guarantee freedom of expression in Burma,” Tint Swe told Radio Free Asia (RFA) in an interview on Wednesday. “It won’t take too long to adopt the press law—it would just be a matter of months after discussions at the upcoming parliament session.” Tint Swe made similar claims in November.

Tint Swe told RFA that the law had already been drafted by Burma’s Ministry of Information and sent to the Attorney General’s office for approval.

His remarks came as Rangoon journalists report that many prior censorship restrictions or advisories have been handed down in recent weeks. Among the items censored or advised to be toned down were calls by Aung San Suu Kyi and others for the release of all remaining political prisoners and comments by recently released 88-Generation student leaders.

Other censored items involved the news of the eviction of a popular abbot for his outspoken political views and criticism of possible election irregularities by the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) ahead of April 1 elections, according to RFA.

Lawmakers in Parliament said this week that revisions to the country’s press law would probably come up in this session of the Parliament, which opened this week.

Burmese censorship rules have been modified in recent months and are now divided into two general categories:

Group 1 includes nearly 200 publications focusing on sports, health, arts, children’s literature, crime, business and technology, which don’t need to pass articles through censors prior to publication, but must submit copies after publication.

Group 2 includes around 160 publications focusing on news, economics, and religion, which must pass articles through censors prior to publication.         

Money exchange services start next month


Friday, 27 January 2012 18:11 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – Four Burmese private banks will provide money exchange services in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand starting in February, according to Rangoon media.

The move is designed to begin foreign trade services with Asean members. The banks participating are the Cooperative Bank, Kanbawza Bank, Asian Green Development Bank and Ayeyawaddy Bank, said an article in the Yangon Times.

The service will allow migrant workers in Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia to remit money to Burma.

The Cooperative Bank will handle remittances from workers in Singapore; the Ayeyawaddy Bank in Malaysia; the Kanbawza Bank in Thailand; and Asian Green Development Bank in Singapore and Malaysia.

Meanwhile, recent economic changes exempted Burmese citizens living abroad from paying income tax for money earned in foreign currency starting Jan. 1.

Changes in the banking sector in November last year now allow 11 private banks out of 19 to trade three foreign hard currencies – U.S. dollar, Euro and Singapore dollar.

The 11 private banks include Kanbawza Bank, Cooperative Bank, Myanmar Industrial Development Bank, Myawaddy Bank, Inwa Bank, Myanmar Oriental Bank, Asian Green Development Bank, Ayeyawaddy Bank, Myanmar Pioneer Bank, United Amara Bank and Tun Foundation Bank.

There are three state-owned banks in Burma: Myanma Economic Bank, Myanma Foreign Trade Bank and Myanma Investment Commercial Bank.

The article said there are 15 foreign bank representative offices from nine countries operating in Burma; four from Singapore, two each from Bangladesh, Malaysia and Japan, and one each from Cambodia, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam and China.         

Internal refugees need help: KNU


Friday, 27 January 2012 14:44 Kyaw Kha

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – It’s past time to offer direct aid to tens of thousands of internal refugees in Karen State and other areas.

The Karen National Union (KNU) and Burmese government peace delegation will discuss the rehabilitation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) during the second round of peace talks, KNU officials said prior to the meeting.

KNU peacemaking committee Secretary Pado Saw David Htaw said that the KNU plans to prioritize the issue because internal refugees need to return to their villages and restart their lives.

“We will give second priority to the issue regarding refugees in Thai camps along the border area, because they don’t have as many problems getting food and shelter as the Internally Displaced People (IDPs) inside Burma,” Pado Saw David Htaw said.

Many refugees inside Burma have to hide in remote jungle camps in the Pegu Region and in Karen State. Food aid groups along the Thai-Burmese border can sometimes provide for IDPs, and the foreign-based Backpacker Health Worker Teams and KNU medical units can provide limited health services to IDPs, said the KNU.

There are around 100,000 IDPs, according to some estimates. Many villages have been burned down by Burmese troops, and many IDPs can not return to their villages because land mines have been planted by government and ethnic armies. DPs are homeless for various reasons, the first being renewed fighting since mid-summer 2011. Dam construction in Karen State has also been a factor.

The KNU peacemaking committee and the Burmese government delegation signed a cease-fire agreement in Hpaan on January 12, agreeing in principle on 11-points, which according to the agreement will be discussed further in coming talks.

Another key issue to be discussed, said David Htaw, is KNU-connected prisoners.

There are around 150,000 refugees in nine camps in Thailand with food and shelter provided by the Thailand-Burma Border Consortium, which is funded by international organizations. Most of the refugees are Karen who fled from their homes because of the fighting.

Most of the refugees’ homes and farmland have been destroyed and landmines have been planted in their areas.

A refugee who fled from Paingkyon Township to the Nu Po camp along the Thai-Burmese border told Mizzima, “There is only empty land in our villages. No one has solved the problem. Even if we want to return to the area to farm, we don’t have oxen and carts. Who will help us?”

A Karen refugee who fled three years ago from Kadimu village to the Mae La camp told Mizzima, “Here, we don’t know what our future will be. If we are sent to resettlement countries, it’ll be good for our children’s education. To return our villages, we’ll need guarantees that we can make a living in safety.” She said she fled because her village was burned down in February 2010 by the Burmese army.

Refugee groups say that both the Burmese government and the KNU have a responsibility to create conditions where internal and external refugees can return to their homes to restart their lives. After a genuine cease-fire, refugees will need support, including access to their farmland, seed crops, equipment and national identification cards.

International aid groups have called for the Burmese government to allow them full access to the area, in order to start the rebuilding process and national reconciliation. So far, the government has prevented full access to the area.         

Up to 900 political prisoners may remain in Burmese jails


Friday, 27 January 2012 14:08 Nay Myo

New Delhi (Mizzima) – As many as 918 political prisoners may still be locked up in Burmese prisons, but an accurate list of the number is still incomplete, say groups working on the political prisoner issue.

According to the list compiled by the Thai-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP-B), 918 political prisoners are still behind bars. According to the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, 388 are political prisoners are still being detained. The two groups use different criteria in defining a political prisoner. It is possible the exact number may never be known.

The Burmese government does not claim to have an accurate list of political prisoners, because it denies that it has political prisoners in its jails. Occasionally, it refers to the numbers compiled by the AAPP and NLD.

AAPP-B Secretary Teik Naing told Mizzima: “When we rechecked our list, we found that some of them were released but some were handed over to police and some were taken away by military units so that it is very difficult to make a complete list. We can confirm around 900 political prisoners are still behind bars.”

According to NLD spokesman Ohn Kyaing, the number of remaining political prisoners may likely increase and the NLD is still working on the exact numbers.

“According to our list, there were 591 political prisoners, and we found that 303 prisoners were released,” said Ohn Kyaing. “We are compiling a new list by collecting figures based on information from prisoners who were just released, and the new list is almost completed,”

A total of 651 prisoners are believed to have been freed during the January 13 presidential amnesty.

At a press conference in Naypyitaw on January 14, Home Minister Ko Ko said, “There are only prisoners in the prisons who are convicted for the crimes they committed. If you know there are monks who were arrested, please give us an accurate list of them.”

Taik Naing said that the AAPP defined those who were arrested and imprisoned in connection with a political issue as political prisoners.

“Some of these political prisoners were charged and framed up in criminal cases such as a narcotic drug cases, misappropriation cases, gambling cases, etc. But we saw them all as political prisoners because they were arrested for their political activities, and then charged with other cases and imprisoned,” he said.

Ohn Kyaing said the NLD considered those who were imprisoned in bomb blast cases and charged under the Unlawful Associations Act were regarded as political prisoners.

“We list all of them who were charged in bomb blast cases, charged in the “saffron revolution” cases, those who were charged under sections of the Unlawful Associations Act in Taungoo, those who were charged under the Emergency Provisions Act and those who were charged with section 505 of Penal Code (causing disaffection to the State) as political prisoners. And some of them were charged with abetting these political prisoners. We list them also as the political prisoners,” he said.         

‘Burma’s Plea’ to raise funds for Burma Campaign UK


Friday, 27 January 2012 21:44 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – “Burma’s Plea,” a 407-page photo album of life in Burma by award-winning photographer Dimitra Stasinopoulou can be purchased from the Thailand-Burma Border Consortium. The funds from the sale by the TBBC will be donated to Burma Campaign UK.

Dimitra Stasinopoulou was born in Athens in 1953. After completing her studies, she worked in the banking sector for 20 years, and later on took up photography.

Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, writes in the introduction: "What the remarkable photographs in this book reveal are the people behind the statistics, and the lives and diversity of the ordinary people in one of the most extraordinary countries in the world.

“They show the beauty of its landscape, the unique architecture, and most of all, the character and essence of the people. It is a unique collection of a nation at work, at play, and at prayer. Burma is a country where people are quick to smile, but where a dark sadness lies beneath. It is all captured here, and the images will not easily be forgotten.”

This private edition is available in Thailand from TBBC’s Bangkok office for 1,500 baht each. For more information, contact

Suu Kyi addresses World Economic Forum


Friday, 27 January 2012 12:26 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi told delegates to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday that the possibility of a great transformation “is in sight for our country.”

“An important step that will take us nearer to a truly revolutionary break through will be the inclusion of all relevant political forces in the electoral and legislative process of our country,” she said.

She said a sign of that break through was the inclusion of Burmese Trade Minister Minister U Soe Thane in this year’s conference.

Here is the full text of her remarks:

Once again I have the honor and the privilege of addressing this gathering of thinkers and doers, movers and shakers, who are in positions to influence the direction that our world will take in the foreseeable future. I would like to express my thanks to the organizers of the World Economic Forum, especially to Professor Schwab who made it possible for this message to be sent and who also kindly invited me, very warmly, to join you here. That I am, very regretfully, not able to be with you today is due to reasons which are closely related to the theme of this meeting –  “The great Transformation: Shaping New Models.”

Last year I spoke of the challenges that Burma was facing, our missed opportunities, our fundamental need for political stability, national reconciliation and rule of law, that we may be able to achieve genuine democratization, human development and economic growth. The aspirations of our people, not only to catch up with the rest of the world, but to make their own contribution towards a safer, happier planet for us all.

A year on I can say that we have taken some steps towards meeting those challenges. We are not yet at the point of a “great transformation,” but we have a rare and extremely precious opportunity to reach such a point. That Minister U Soe Thane is attending the 2012 World Economic Forum is a sign of the positive changes that have been taking place in our country. I would like to appeal to all those who wish to promote the interests of Burma, and other nations and societies struggling for peace and stability, development and prosperity, to support us in our efforts to take the next crucial task, that will enable us to bridge the gap between potential and fulfillment.

It gives me intense satisfaction, I do not think it will be going too far to say that it thrills me, to learn that the purpose of this Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum is to ensure that the leaders exercise their responsibilities, jointly, boldly and strategically to improve the state of the world for future generations.

May I be so bold as to say that this is a happy paraphrase of a major aim of my party, The National League for Democracy, except that we aspire, modestly, to start with our own country before we extend our efforts to the rest of the world.

This brings me back to the reason why I am not with you today. As I said earlier, the possibility of a “great transformation” is in sight for our country. An important step that will take us nearer to a truly revolutionary break through will be the inclusion of all relevant political forces in the electoral and legislative process of our country.

We are now reconstructing our party and preparing to contest by elections scheduled for first April. That we may extend our efforts for peace, national reconciliation, here I would like to emphasize the need to resolve ethnic conflicts and democratization into the national assembly. The work connected with these preparations is keeping me away from your meeting this year but I hope the fruit of our labors will contribute towards to a closer, positive links between our domestic economy and global developments.

Economic progress is dependent on more than the fiscal and monetary measures that have been advocated for Burma by international financial Institutions. Such measures will need to be up held by judicial and legislative reforms, which will guarantee that sound regulations and laws will be administrated justly and effectively.

We wish to create a political, social and economic environment that will bring ethical, new and innovative investments to our country. We would like to draw up our blue print for a sustainable new model economy with a view to the future needs of our globe, social and environmental concerns, woven into food, water and energy needs.

Once again I would like to end with an appeal to all of you: please support our endeavors to make Burma the shining representative of what can be possible if we cooperate in our efforts to make our world a happier, safer home for all our peoples.

In conclusion, may I say that I very much hope that the day will come when I too can be part of this distinguished, vibrant gathering.
Thank you.         

Meeting Suu Kyi was ‘quite a moment’: McConnell


Friday, 27 January 2012 12:09 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – A top U.S. lawmaker, in an address to his colleagues in the U.S. Senate, said he never thought he would get to meet Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in person.  

“It was quite a moment,” Senator Mitch McConnell said, to be welcomed by her in her home in Rangoon, during his two-day visit to Burma earlier this month.

Senate Minority Leader McConnell said recent democratic changes in Burma are real and, “I am pleased to say that change is clearly in the air. It appears Burma has made some progress towards democracy in the past six months, made more than it has in decades.”

McConnell said the long isolated country’s new government has taken “undeniably positive steps towards reform.” He supported the exchange of ambassadors between Washington and Rangoon, but he said more must be done.

“The government of Burma still has a substantial way to go to achieve real and lasting reform,” McConnell said. “I do not support, and I do not think the [Obama] administration would support lifting the [U.S.] sanctions that have been imposed unless there is much further progress.”

McConnell, the senate Republican leader from Kentucky, was the original author of the United States’ sanctions legislation on Burma.

After he return from Burma this week, McConnell gave an interview to National Public Radio about what first drew his interests to Burma.

“I read about it in the newspaper like everyone else,” he said. “It was an interesting story: the uprising in '88, the election in 1990 in which Suu Kyi got 80 percent of the vote and their outrageous decision to put her under arrest for most of the next 20 years, the inability to go accept the Noble Peace price in '91.”

“All of that I found a fascinating and interesting story. Even though I thought the chance of influencing events there were quite remote, I started taking about it.”

He told NPR reporter Michele Kelemen that eventually he push the Burmese sanctions legislation through Congress, and then Suu Kyi managed to send him a hand-written note that he said he framed and hung in his office.

“To be perfectly candid with you, I wasn't all that confident things would ever change,” he said.

He said Burma’s upcoming parliamentary elections are an important test of progress, and he urged a full reconciliation between Burma’s government and the country’s ethnic minorities before sanctions are lifted.         
Thursday, January 26, 2012

Joint parliament session to debate budget on Tuesday


Thursday, 26 January 2012 22:43 Myo Thant

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – A joint session of both houses of the Burmese Parliament will have only one day to deliberate on next year’s budget, say lawmakers. The joint session will meet on Tuesday in Naypyitaw.

Parliament speaker Khin Aung Myint told lawmakers on Thursday that the budget would be the only item on that day’s agenda.

Upper House MP Phone Myint Aung told Mizzima that ministers and state government officials would brief lawmakers throughout the day.

“We were told that we must remain in session until the deliberations on the budget are finished,” he said.

Rakhine National Development Party (RNDP) MP Dr. Aye Maung told Mizzima on Wednesday that lawmakers would try to cut items from the budget that were non-essential projects.

In the Upper House session on Thursday, lawmakers raised a number of questions:

Border and Development Affairs Minister Thein Htay told MPs that infrastructure improvement work would be done as funds become available.

Upper House MP Khin Waing Kyi asked about the national plan for future energy sufficiency. Energy Minister Than Htay answered, saying that Burma currently consumes 60,000 barrels of crude oil per day and domestic production was only 20,000 barrels per day. Current production is not sufficient for the demands in the country, he said.

Upper House MP Myo Mhint of Mandalay constituency No. 6 moved a motion to change from the current imperial metric system.

Rangoon constituency No. 1 MP Khin Waing Kyi moved a motion to increase maternity leave from the current 45 days.

Parliament will debate the motions in future sessions. MPs said the current third session of Parliament would last about one month.         

Thailand PM touts Dawei in India


Thursday, 26 January 2012 18:21 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said Burma’s Dawei deep-sea port industrial zone could be India’s long-sought transport corridor to Southeast Asia.

In her address to business associations in New Delhi on Wednesday, Shinawatra said Thailand is commitment to building a deep sea port in southern Burma and a massive industrial complex to serve as a gateway to Southeast Asian countries, according to an article on the website.

Estimated to cost more than $50 billion when completed, and to be implemented in multiple phases, the Dawei project could be the biggest infrastructure project ever in Southeast Asia.

Once translated into reality, the shipping-industrial complex will put the recent Chinese port development in Gwadar (Pakistan) and Hambantota (Sri Lanka) and Kyauk Phyu (Myanmar) into the shade, the article said.

Unlike the Chinese ports, which are surrounded by underdeveloped hinterlands, Shinawatra’s proposal for a Chennai-Dawei corridor will connect economically prosperous regions. From Chennai, Dawei is directly across on the other side of the Bay of Bengal.

The Dawei development project also came up for discussion in Delhi this week in talks with Burma’s visiting foreign minister, Wunna Maung Lwin.         

Burma ‘has a high growth potential’: IMF


Thursday, 26 January 2012 16:25 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – After a two-week assessment period, an International Monetary Fund (IMF) team says Burma has the potential to become “the next economic frontier in Asia.” 

Meral Karasulu, the deputy division chief of the Asia and Pacific Department at the International Monetary Fund, who led the IMF assessment team, said in a statement released on Wednesday: “Burma has a high growth potential and could become the next economic frontier in Asia, if it can turn its rich natural resources, young labor force, and proximity to some of the most dynamic economies in the world, into its advantage.”

She said the process of upgrading Burma's antiquated financial system has already begun with recent changes in the exchange rate and restrictions on current international payments and transfers. The IMF team studied current processes and analyzed factors that could streamline and enhance Burma’s financial system, including aspects of its budget expenditures.

“As this essential process continues, channeling the reform momentum to improving monetary and fiscal management and to structural reforms would allow taking full advantage of the positive effects of exchange rate unification,” she said.

Karasulu said modernizing Burma’s economy would require changes to enhance the business and investment climate, modernizing the financial sector, and further liberalizing trade and foreign direct investment.

She said Burma’s real GDP growth is expected to increase to 5½ per cent in FY2011/12 and 6 percent in FY2012/13, driven by commodity exports and higher investment supported by robust credit growth and improved business confidence.

“Inflation, projected at 4.2 percent for FY2011/12, is expected to pick up to 5.8 per cent in FY2012/13 as the recent decline in food prices phases out,” she said.

She noted that the parallel market exchange rate of the kyat has appreciated by about 32 per cent in nominal effective terms since end-FY2009/10. The appreciation pressures are primarily due to large foreign inflows into the economy, which cannot find an outlet due to exchange restrictions on current international payments and transfers, she said.

The technical work by the Central Bank of Myanmar (CBM) is already under way to establish the necessary market structure. Ultimately, the unification of the exchange rate would require moving away from the “export first” policy. In light of the appreciation pressures, she said certain exchange restrictions can be removed immediately, for example, by allowing the use of all foreign currency bank account balances for imports, easing import licensing requirements and access to the newly established foreign exchange retail counters.

“A successful exchange rate unification would require improvements in all areas of macroeconomic management,” she noted. “This will have to start with establishing a monetary policy framework to focus on price stability. The authorities’ plan to grant operational autonomy and accountability to CBM is a welcome first institutional step towards this goal.”

Noting Burma’s recent reduction in interest rates, she said, “We do not see room for further interest rate cuts in the near term in light of the buoyant growth expectations and the inflation outlook. Within the current regulatory constraints on financial intermediation and impediments to productive investment, lower real interest rates would risk channeling savings to potentially speculative outlets, such as real estate.”

Stimulating productive investment is now resting on structural policies to reduce barriers to private sector development and improve financial intermediation, she said.

 “The discussion of the 2012/13 budget in the new Parliament provides a historic opportunity to redefine national spending priorities and bring fiscal transparency,” she said. “We welcome the authorities’ plans to reorient spending to health and education, while targeting a moderate fiscal deficit, which we project to be about 4.6 percent of GDP, about 1 percent lower than the last year’s deficit. A prudent fiscal policy is essential to maintain macroeconomic stability, especially during the exchange rate unification process.

She sad overall, Burma’s fiscal balance is expected to improve in the medium term, but mainly due to new gas exports from the Shwe and Zawtika projects once they come on line.

“These additional revenues should be used to build human capital and infrastructure,” she said. “These are key priorities to alleviate poverty and reduce bottlenecks to industrialization,” she said. “The sizable development needs of Myanmar would require additional fiscal revenues, primarily from non-resource based sources, to safeguard fiscal sustainability and prevent boom-and-bust cycles associated with fluctuations in commodity prices. There is room to increase revenues by improved tax policies that should emphasize direct taxation over indirect taxes to protect the poor.”

“The adoption of a market-determined exchange rate in SEEs’ operations would allow better assessment of their performance, and provide an opportunity to accelerate SEE reforms. These efforts should focus on containing their losses by gradually reducing regressive subsidies, which benefit higher income groups, to protect the most vulnerable poor.

 A key to Burma’s growth potential lies in more banks, she said. “Modernization of the financial system should be expedited to facilitate broad-based growth. Improvements to financial intermediation should begin by phasing out the deposit-to-capital ratio and expanding the list of collateral, including to all crops. Expansion of bank networks, especially in rural areas, is essential to increase access to finance. Nurturing a stronger commercial banking culture requires price competition. Interest rate liberalization started with some freedom in setting deposit rates, and should be extended to loan products. A level playing field between state and private banks, including in the areas of regulation and supervision, is critical to promote competition.”

Allowing joint ventures with foreign banks would expedite the transfer technology and prepare the sector for Asean financial integration in 2015, she said.

Another key reform area lies in he agriculture sector, which  needs more credit to increase productivity and improve rural livelihoods.

“The planned land reform provides a unique opportunity, and should ensure that land titles of farmers can be used as collateral. However, credit alone will not suffice to increase rural growth, which is essential to alleviate poverty,” she said. Investment in rural infrastructure, including through community-driven development initiatives, and spending on health and education, are also essential.         

Hotel chains eyeing Burma as new market


Thursday, 26 January 2012 15:15 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – The topic of hotels in Burma came up in Davos Switzerland this week when two international hoteliers said they would like to open hotels in the once-isolated country.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts – which runs hotel chains such as Westin, Sheraton and W – and Marriott International, said during the World Economic Forum in Davos they wanted to expand into Burma.

“Marriott would love to be there if the conditions are right,” said Arne Sorenson, president and CEO-elect of Marriott International, according to Reuters news agency. “Burma has captured people's imagination for decades.”

Recently, the Burmese tour industry has voiced frustrations at the limited number of hotel facilities, and its poor tourism infrastructure, including guides, transportation, airlines seats and promotional activities.

The only chain hotels now are Asian-based companies such as Shangri-la Hotels & Resorts, which runs the Traders Hotel in Myanmar’s commercial capital of Rangoon, according to Reuters.

Burma’s tourism authority said this month that about 300,000 tourists visited last year, according to government figures, a mere trickle compared to neighbors Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia.

“I think it’s time for people like us to look at Burma,” Vasant Prabhu, vice chairman and chief financial officer of Starwood Hotels & Resorts was quoted as saying.

A key to international hotel chains entering the Burmese market will be the lifting of economic sanctions by the U.S., European Union and other countries. There has been talk that selected sanctions might be lifted as early as April, following the country’s by-election.

U.S. and European sanctions, imposed in response to years of human rights abuses, have left much of the country in poverty. One-third of its estimated 60 million people live on less than a dollar a day.         

EU looking at 150 million euro aid package


Thursday, 26 January 2012 12:49 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – EU diplomats are talking about an aid package to Burma, perhaps reaching 150 million euro, Agence France Presses (AFP) said on Wednesday.

The aid package, aimed at health, education, agriculture and institutional capacity building, was discussed by EU foreign ministers at talks in Brussels on Monday, an anonymous source told AFP.

EU ministers agreed to the immediate lifting of travel bans on Burma leaders as a first step towards easing its sanctions.

It also called for the unconditional release of remaining political prisoners “within the next few months” and a “free and fair” April 1 election.

Observers said a key element in an aid package would probably be full access to an estimated 40,000 ethnic refugees who have fled widespread fighting and are surviving on limited aid. Along border areas. International donors have generally been denied access to the area.

In 2011, the European Commission donated over 22 million euros (US$ 30 million) for humanitarian and disaster relief activities inside Burma and refugee camps along the Thai-Burmese border.

EU sanctions target nearly a thousand firms and institutions with asset freezes and visa bans that affected almost 500 people, according to Reuters news agency. The sanctions also include an arms embargo, a prohibition on technical assistance related to the military and investment bans in the mining, timber and precious metals sectors.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Monday “quite extraordinary changes” had taken place in Burma in the last weeks and months.

Ashton said she would visit Burma in April after the elections, coordinating the visit with Aung San Suu Kyi, with the aim of offering “full support in what we hope will be a very successful transition”.

Earlier this month, the European Union said it would open a representative office in Burma to manage aid programmed and promote political dialogue.

The United States has decided to upgrade diplomatic ties with Burma as a result of its reforms and is considering lifting its sanctions if April's elections are fair and open.         

NMSP forms peace delegation


Thursday, 26 January 2012 12:22 Kun Chan

(Mizzima) – New Mon State Party Vice Chairman Nai Rao Sa will lead a delegation for a second round of peace talks at Mawlamyaing in Mon State on February 1.

“Our posture is the same as before,” NMSP Secretary-General Nai Hong Sar told Mizzima. “We want to talk about a nationwide cease-fire. Stopping the fighting is not the main thing. The main thing is to hold a political dialogue.”

On January 20, NMSP chairman Nai Htaw Mon said in his closing speech at the 6th Mon National Conference that it was not difficult to agree to a cease-fire with the Burmese government, but it was difficult to hold a political dialogue.

Two member groups of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), the Chin National Front and the Karen National Union, have signed cease-fire agreements with the Burmese government.

“The UNFC turned into a paper tiger, so it’s not easy to promote the interests of all ethnic people,” Nai Hong Sar told the Mon National Conference.  

The UNFC was formed on February 17, 2011, as an ethnic alliance against the Burmese government’s military attacks and political pressure. The UNFC comprises six dedicated member groups and six associated member groups.

Before the NMSP has peace talk with the Burmese government the NMSP delegates will seek advice from Mon political and social organizations inside Burma, Nai Hong Sar Pon Khaing said.

NMSP central executive committee members met at party headquarters at Ye Chaung Phya and formed the delegation on Tuesday.

Delegates are party Vice Chairman Nai Rao Sa, central executive Nai Tala Nyi, central executive Nai Lari Ga Kaung, central committee member Nai Aye Mon (Mawlamyaing District chairman), central committee member Nai Banyar Lel (Dawei District chairman), central committee member Nai Aye Ka (Thaton District secretary) and NMSP central military committee Lieutenant Colonel Nai Banyar Channun.         

New book praises Suu Kyi’s nonviolence


Thursday, 26 January 2012 11:58 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – A new book “Evolving the Spirit – From Democracy to Peace” by Anthony Russell praises Aung San Suu Kyi as one of the leaders who uses a religious spirit in her efforts to establish democracy and peace in Burma.

Author Anthony Russell  Photo: thechandos.comAuthor Russell writes: “What fascinates me is the single belief-system that runs through all the great religions. Cut away the political fat and they all throb with a single spiritual beat.”

The book, launched by Burma Campaign UK on Wednesday, describes 10 steps to help reach peace, the understanding that once we change personally, none around us can remain unaffected. “This change can then ripple out to affect the world beyond,” said Russell.

“Taking the principle of non-violence to the wider world is even today political dynamite,” he writes. “Aung San Suu Kyi represents that spirit to perfection. There is nothing naive about her. She is sophisticated, knowledgeable and deeply grounded in her morality and common sense. She has every chance of leading Burma out of the morass in which it finds itself.”

However, the book carries a warning, made clear by Gandhi’s writings as well as his sudden demise, that nonviolence is not the passive, easy approach traditionally portrayed. To Russell, “It is as controversial and threatening today as in Roman times though just as relevant.”

The book includes contributions from the BBC’s World Affairs Editor John Simpson, the conservationist Chris Darwin, and UK Foreign Secretary William Hague.

Russell has been involved with the Burma Campaign UK promoting awareness of human rights. A staunch advocate of nonviolence and an anti-war campaigner, he is a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi and has said he would like the West as to promote democratic principles more strongly. He believes that only strengthened international law, in the form of the UN, ICC and the IMF, can bring lasting peace.

All the great faiths of the world, he argues, share a “golden threat” of truth, which is all that really matters, as the rest is “mere politics.”

In “Evolving the Spirit',” he argues that peace in the world comes from international cooperation on one level but just as importantly, from each of us as individuals. Each person’s ultimate power is achieved by assuming the “dignity of the mature,” he has said, “acting not reacting,” having no enemies and not judging others or taking revenge.         

U.N. behind-the-scenes work paying off: Ban


Thursday, 26 January 2012 13:09 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he is “very pleased” with democratic reforms so far in Burma and that he plans another visit there soon.

The freeing of political prisoners was a major step toward reconciliation, he told Voice of America, while noting that he and other U.N. diplomats have continuously and patiently carried out public and behind-the-scenes diplomacy with the former military regime and the newly elected Burmese government.

He said previous U.N. visits to Burma, “set the stage for international engagement with Burma.”

In the past month, a parade of international leaders met with Burmese officials, in hopes of speeding up its changes to a more democratic system. Critics of Burma say despite the recent transition from military to civilian rule, Burmese generals still dominate its Parliament and politics.         
Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Vice president talks to Dawei residents


Wednesday, 25 January 2012 22:21 Ko Wild

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Burma’s Vice President Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo has met with residents of the Dawei (Tavoy) Special Economic Zone project who will be relocated, confirming 18 villages would be relocated.

The vice president met with a number of the homeowners and told them the giant energy project in southern Burma will create better social and economic conditions for the country, according to state-run newspapers.

Government officials said 23,120 people from 3,984 homes in 18 villages will be relocated. A total of more than 100,000 acres of agricultural land including rubber plantations, cashew plantations, coconut palm plantations and palm plantations will be lost in the relocation project.

Earlier authorities said the compensation for the owners of the plantations would depend on the type of plantation; now the authorities have agreed to give a maximum of 2 million kyat per one acre as compensation, according to Tin Maung Swe, a project official.

The state-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar reported that the vice president called for government officials to assist the relocated villagers in the process. More than 20 officials including ministers and deputy ministers, and the chairman of the Italian-Thai Development Public Company Limited that is carrying out the project accompanied the vice president.

Earlier, residents said that 21 villages would be relocated. Some smaller villages were combined with larger ones, so the number is now 18, residents’ said.

During the vice president’s trip he met with monks and villagers from seven villages at the Leshaung village monastery.

“All Tin Aung Myint Oo did was tell us we had to move. He told the monks that the government will work for the villagers to achieve a better future and will make the country more developed,” a resident who attended the meeting told Mizzima.

The village heads of a number of area villages told the officials they would be ready to move.

The exact time when the villagers will be relocated is not yet known, because the government is still working on replacement homes and infrastructure, sources said.

SSA-S leaders prepare to set up businesses


Wednesday, 25 January 2012 22:03 Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – After signing its cease-fire agreement with the Burmese government, Shan State Army – South (SSA-S) leaders have concluded a seven-day tour of businesses in three cities.

At the invitation of the government peace team led by Railway Minister Aung Min, a seven-member SSA-S team visited Rangoon and Mandalay and a three-member team visited Muse in northern Shan State.

“Our visits are just to survey businesses,” said Major Sai Lao Sai. “We looked at basic economic activities such as agriculture, livestock, gem stones, metal mining and timber extraction.”

Part of the peace negotiation process involved Burmese government assistance in establishing businesses for Shan leaders to operate in their control areas.

Major Sai Lao Sai said they planned to grow long-term cash crops such as tea in their control area but other businesses such as gemstones, mining and timber extraction are also under consideration.

The SSA-S leaders returned on Tuesday. The Burmese government invited SSA-S leader Lieutenant General Ywet Sitt to go along, but he didn’t accept the invitation because other talks and negotiations have not yet concluded, Major Sai Lao Sai said.

During meetings with government officials in Taunggyi in Shan State on January 18, the SSA-S requested government ministers to assist in providing technology and helping to set up SSA-S businesses as soon as possible.

During the peace talks, the union government signed an agreement in principle on 11-points that include implementation of economic activities, development work in the region, delineation of SSA-S control areas and opening of liaison offices.

On other matters, the government peace team leader, Aung Min, told the SSA-S to negotiate further with local military commands to reduce the number of government forces in the area around SSA-S headquarters and around Ho Mein and Meng Htar townships.

“If the government does not reduce the troop buildup in our HQ area, the implementation of our businesses will be delayed. How can we live in such a small area with so many of their troops,” said Major Sai Lao Sai.

The SSA-S will hold a central committee meeting in a few days, and then negotiate for a reduction of Burmese troops in their area, he said.         

Burmese army shoots pregnant Kachin teacher: BCUK


Wednesday, 25 January 2012 20:51 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – Burma Campaign UK (BCUK) said it has confirmed reports that a pregnant Kachin woman was shot and killed by Burmese Army soldiers on January 11.
A statement released on Wednesday said Mangshang Ying Wang was shot by Burmese Army soldiers on January 11 at 9 a.m. on Hpakan Road in Kachin State. It is believed that soldiers from Battalion 58 under the command of Lieutenant Ye Min Twi, Lieutenant Ko Ko Latt and Colonel Htun Naing were in charge of soldiers in that area, according to the BCUK statement. It did not cite a source for its information.

Mangshang Ying Wang was four months pregnant, the BCUK said, and she was taken to a hospital where she died later that day. Another woman, Gawlu Seng Hkawn, was also shot and injured in the attack, it said.

In June 2010, the Burmese government broke a cease-fire with the Kachin Independence Organization, an armed political party in Kachin State in northeast Burma.

The Burmese Army has been deliberately targeting civilians since resuming the fighting, said BCUK. “The attacks by the Burmese Army have forced up to 50,000 people to flee their homes. The military-backed government continues to block international aid from reaching these people,” it said in a press statement.

“The soldiers who carried out the attack should be arrested and put on trial”, said Zoya Phan, campaigns manager at Burma Campaign UK. “There has been good news from Burma recently, but there is still more bad news than good news. It is time the international community took a more balanced approach to what is really happening in Burma.

“For decades these kind of attacks have taken place with no action taken against the soldiers and their commanders.  The scale of this indicates this is Army policy, not individual soldiers behaving badly.”

She said the breaking of the cease-fire in Kachin State was expected, but the international community took no action to try to prevent it happening, and no action to ensure aid could reach those who fled the attacks.

“Attacks like this should remind the EU that they shouldn’t get carried away by the good news and relax sanctions too soon,” she said. “Those EU members whose diplomats are privately arguing that even the arms embargo should be lifted in April, should come out publicly and explain why they think it’s a good idea to sell arms to a government that shoots unarmed women.”         

Press freedom ranking


Wednesday, 25 January 2012 18:58 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – Burma ranked 169, slightly higher than China and Vietnam, in the ranking of countries with a free press in an analysis by Reporters Without Borders. Burma was in the bottom 10 in countries with the most restrictive free speech and press.

In 2010, Burma was ranked seven places lower, reflecting a slight improvement in a loosening of prior censorship laws. However, newspapers and journals are still required to have all articles approved by censors before publication.

In its assessment of Burma, the report said: “Burma showed signs of beginning to carry out reforms including partial amnesties and a reduction in prior censorship, but it remained largely under the control of an authoritarian government run by former members of the military junta reinvented as civilian politicians. Less than 10 of its journalists remain in prison at the start of 2012.”

Many arrests were made in Vietnam (172nd), the report said. In China (174th), the government responded to regional and local protests and to public impatience with scandals and acts of injustice by “feverishly reinforcing its system of controlling news and information, carrying out extrajudicial arrests and stepping up Internet censorship.”

“This year’s index sees many changes in the rankings, changes that reflect a year that was incredibly rich in developments, especially in the Arab world,” said a press release. “Control of news and information continued to tempt governments and to be a question of survival for totalitarian and repressive regimes. The past year also highlighted the leading role played by netizens in producing and disseminating news.”

 “This year’s index finds the same group of countries at its head, countries such as Finland, Norway and Netherlands that respect basic freedoms,” said the report. “This serves as a reminder that media independence can only be maintained in strong democracies and that democracy needs media freedom.”

The United States (47th) also owed its fall of 27 places to the many arrests of journalist covering Occupy Wall Street protests.
Assessing China, the report said: “China, which has more journalists, bloggers and cyber-dissidents in prison than any other country, stepped up its censorship and propaganda in 2011 and tightened its control of the Internet, particularly the blogosphere. The first protest movements in Arab countries and the ensuing calls for democracy in China’s main cities set off a wave of arrests with no end yet in sight.”

Its ranking of the Philippines said: “In the Philippines (140th), which rose again in the index after falling in 2010 as a result of the massacre of 32 journalists in Ampatuan in November 2009, paramilitary groups and private militias continued to attack media workers. The judicial investigation into the Ampatuan massacre made it clear that the response of the authorities was seriously inadequate.”

For Indonesia, the report said: “In Indonesia, an army crackdown in West Papua province, where at least two journalists were killed, five kidnapped and 18 assaulted in 2011, was the main reason for the country’s fall to 146th position in the index. A corrupt judiciary that is too easily influenced by politicians and pressure groups and government attempts to control the media and Internet have prevented the development of a freer press.”

To see a full report, go to

Sanctions are not cause of economic problems

Wednesday, 25 January 2012 18:29 Nyein Chan Aye

(Commentary) – Nowadays the Burmese “sanctions” question is a hot topic. I have neither opposed nor supported Western sanctions because I believe it’s not the main reason for the problems of our motherland, including the bad economy.

According to Aung San Suu Kyi, the Western targeted sanctions mainly affect the regime and its cronies and it makes the least possible effect on ordinary Burmese. They were put in place because of their [U.S., UK and their allies] principles, commitment to freedom and democracy and their willingness to support Burma's democracy groups.

Because of recent developments the sanctions will be lifted eventually whether some activists [exiled] agree or not. Even now, some constraints are already eased. Aung Sun Suu Kyi herself, welcomes foreign investment with some specific conditions such as accountability, credibility, transparency, and so forth, for the interest of Burmese commoners.

One noteworthy fact is that even if the Western countries ease or lift the sanctions, it does not mean they have complete trust of the current regime. Their hidden reason is because of geopolitics and power balancing in Asia (particularly, in South East Asia).

I, however, strongly believe that Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) flow to Burma will be below expectations, even though the sanctions are lifted.

What are the major reasons for the sluggish inflow of FDI? Naturally, peace and security are mandatory to attract FDI, but the required preconditions and post-conditions are a more challenging job for the current government.

There are many other important factors that must be put in place to ensure an attractive investment climate in Burma. For instance, good governance, political and economic stability, consistent macroeconomic policies (consistency and predictability are required both in political and economical polices), basic infrastructure, rules, regulations and associations (up to international standards), rule of law, guarantee of property rights, including intellectual property law, freedom of expression and press, accountability, credibility, transparency, absence of corruption and still more critical issues. That’s why sanctions alone are not the critical issue.

As I said at the beginning, I'm neutral in this matter. Let me finish with some other points: if they are lifted, Burma is likely to ease political and economical ties with China and Burma will have closer relationships with democratic nations.

In conclusion, I would like to ask all exiled Burmese activists not to express their pro-sanction views publicly. Let the NLD and the respective concerned countries decide by themselves. As I said, there will not be a significant change in Burma's economics without more changes in the regime’s policies and procedures.

When the time comes, a clear-cut picture will appear, showing who and what has been responsible for the nation's poverty.

Nyein Chan Aye is a resident of Australia.  Photo: Facebook

Lawmakers will try to cut state budgets to reduce deficit


Wednesday, 25 January 2012 12:27 Myo Thant

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – During the opening session of the Burmese Parliament on Thursday, lawmakers will review state budgets for the 2012-13 financial year in hope of reducing the deficit.

Dr. Aye Maung of the Rakhine National Development Party (RNDP) told Mizzima that they would try to control spending on some nonessential state projects.

“We must cancel unnecessary projects during this time of a financial crunch,” he said. “The projects which we must spend money on by borrowing loans and are not essential should not be done because Burma is a poor country,” he said.

The former SPDC government enacted a state budget for the 2011-12 financial year with a 2.3 trillion kyat deficit. A total of  2201.45 billion kyat was for the central government and 170.495 billion kyat was for state and regional governments.

A preliminary meeting on state budgets for the 2012-13 financial year was held in Naypyitaw on January 17, attended by lawmakers from the public accounts committee, and ministers from finance, national planning, construction, electricity, railway, defence and health ministries.

Finance Minister Hla Tun told the meeting that they reduced 50 billion kyat from the deficit for 2011-12 financial year, but he could not project in which sectors they could reduce the deficit in the proposed budget, Tin Nwe Oo of the National Democratic Force told Mizzima.

“Despite holding a meeting, they didn’t show us a detailed budget to us,” he said. “The finance minister just said the amount could be reduced this financial year. He didn’t give us the figures in detail but he showed some on a projector,” Tin Nwe Oo said.

Another participant in the meeting, MP Phone Myint Aung of the New National Democracy Party said that there would be a deficit also in 2012-13 financial year.

“We saw their figures in a computer presentation. There would be a deficit again in the next financial year but the Parliament has to deliberate on the new budget before passing it as a law,” Phone Myint Aung told Mizzima.

The current budget enacted by the previous government will end on March 3. The first budget of the new government led by President Thein Sein will start on April 1. MPs said they expected the new budget to be published in the government Gazette for public information.         

NLD member sets shirt on fire in protest


Wednesday, 25 January 2012 12:01 Kyaw Kha

(Mizzima) – A National League for Democracy (NLD) member set fire to his shirt bearing an NLD logo on Monday in objection to NLD electoral candidate Tin Tin Yi.

He set himself on fire in front of the NLD office in Myeik Township, Tanintharyi Region.

He told people he objected to Tin Tin Yi’s candidacy because she had neglected the Myeik Township NLD in times of trouble, and she did not deserve to be an NLD candidate, according to eyewitness NLD members.

“He said in front of the office that she neglected the party for 20 years. She contacted the party only after it had decided to contest in the by-elections,” Launglon Township NLD candidate Aung Soe told Mizzima.
A Myeik Township NLD member told Mizzima, “Tin Tin Yi is rich. The young member feels upset because Tin Tin Yi was given the position that the members who sacrificed for the sake of the party for many years should hold. We discussed it this morning and now everything is ok.”

To contest in the coming April 1 by-election, the NLD chose its candidates based on gender balance and a priority to residents, well-educated people and people who have relevant experience. The central NLD reviewed the nominations made by NLD canvassing committees and decided who would be appointed as candidates.

“Our central NLD does not know Tin Tin Yi. The NLD officials of the region made the list, and we chose candidates. We don’t know whether the reason for the objection is correct or not,” NLD spokesman Nyan Win told Mizzima.

Thirteen out of 48 NLD candidates are women. Tin Tin Yi will contest for a Lower House parliamentary seat in Kyunzu in Myeik District.

In the 2010 general elections, Industry Minister Soe Thein of the Union Solidarity and Development Party [USDP] won the seat.         

Pakistan wants closer oil and gas ties with Burma


Wednesday, 25 January 2012 12:38 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari arrived in Burma for a two-day official visit on Tuesday to promote trade and economic cooperation.

The Pakistani president planned to raise the issue of upgrading institutional relations with Asean to a full dialogue partnership. He will also meet with Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

Zardari said in a statement that he wanted to congratulate her on what it called “the beginning moments of her triumph” as she reenters the political arena, seeking a seat in Parliament in the April 1 by-election.

He met with his Burmese counterpart President Thein Sein Tuesday in Naypyitaw.

Zardari and Thein Sein discussed increasing bilateral cooperation in the oil and gas sectors, according to press reports.