Burma Democratic Concern has the firm determination to carry on doing until the democracy restore in Burma.

Monday, 6 February 2012

AP - Myanmar's Suu Kyi postpones planned political trip
Reuters - At Suu Kyi's rallies, signs of a new Myanmar
Reuters - Myanmar agrees to ceasefire with Mon separatists
Financial Times - Myanmar refugees flee across Chinese border
The Malaysian Insider - The promise and peril of Myanmar’s economy — Simon Tay
New York Times - Myanmar: Total of Freed Political Prisoners Is Updated
Moneycontrol.com - Myanmar plans jump in health, education spending
Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses - Myanmar’s Critical Role in Bolstering India’s Look East Policy
Washington Post - Possible repatriation of 1 million refugees looms as Myanmar undergoes rapid reforms
Council on Foreign Relations - How Myanmar Changed and What It Means
Assam Tribune - Indo-Myanmar border policy working well: Rio
The Scotsman - Burma’s 1m exiles look homewards
guardian.co.uk - The Lady is underground hit in Burma
Hindustan Times - New khao suey diplomacy
The Business Times - Myanmar to offer better hotels, services to visitors
The Atlantic - Why Burma Would Turn Against China
The Washington Times - Activists: Don’t lift sanctions on Myanmar just yet
ABC Radio Australia - Australian foreign minister hopes to visit Burma soon
The Irrawaddy - Monastic Council Restores Status of Released Monks
The Irrawaddy - Hearing to be Held in Army Abduction Case
The Irrawaddy - Burmese SIM Card Provider Challenges Monopolistic State Interests
Mizzima News - Thai cement company eyeing Burma
Mizzima News - Cholera outbreak in Kachin refugee camps
Mizzima News - Farmers fear gov’t seizure of farmland
DVB News - As troops withdraw, Kachin refugees fear return
DVB News - Mandalay threatens beggars with arrest
DVB News - Rangoon ceremony for freed monks blocked
DVB News - Deceiving the US over North Korean ties
Myanmar's Suu Kyi postpones planned political trip
Associated Press – 50 mins ago

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has postponed a trip to central Myanmar because she could not obtain permission to hold a political gathering at a football stadium there, a party official said Thursday.

Ohn Kyaing, a spokesman for her National League for Democracy party, said she would reschedule the trip to Mandalay which had been slated for this weekend.

The failure to receive Election Commission permission strikes a sour note in the reconciliation process under the reforms of the elected but military-backed government of President Thein Sein. Suu Kyi is leading a slate of her party's candidates contesting 48 parliamentary seats in an April 1 by-election.

Thein Sein's democratic reforms after decades of military repression have drawn praise from Suu Kyi as well as from previously critical Western nations.

Suu Kyi last week made a political trip to the southern city of Dawei, where she received an enthusiastic welcome from thousands of people.

The party submitted a request 10 days ahead of time for permission to use the Bahtoo football stadium for a speech because a large crowd was expected, Ohn Kyaing said. The law requires that applications be made at least seven days in advance.

Ohn Kyaing, who will run for one of the 10 seats from the Mandalay region in the polls, said the NLD asked football authorities for use of the stadium, but the football federation said Mandalay's Election Commission must first approve the request.

However, the Election Commission said the NLD needed to obtain permission from the football federation first.

"We are a bit saddened with the inconvenience," Ohn Kyaing said.

NLD leaders then sought permission to use an open field under the administration of the ministry of sports but no approval was given by Thursday evening, so the party decided to cancel Suu Kyi's planned trip.
At Suu Kyi's rallies, signs of a new Myanmar
By Jason Szep | Reuters – Wed, Feb 1, 2012

DAWEI, Myanmar (Reuters) - Shortly after her aging aircraft rattled its way off the runway and into the skies of southern Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi crossed the aisle to where three orange-robed Buddhist monks were seated in the first row.

She knelt down and bowed her head, as passengers watched aboard a suddenly hushed plane. Media were not alerted. There were no clicking cameras.

"That's a wonderful moment," the lone Western diplomat on the plane said quietly.

Her display of obeisance and humility, less than an hour after ecstatic crowds feted her like a rock-star in the southern city of Dawei, revealed a side few have seen.

This more deferential demeanour of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate may well help sustain the most sweeping reforms in the former British colony since a 1962 military coup when it was known as Burma.


While she is widely admired at home, figures in her own movement have criticised her as too dogmatic, inflexible or arrogant - accusations amplified by state media under the former military junta which handed power to a nominally civilian parliament in March.

The ruling generals often demonised her as Westernised, out of touch with Myanmar. It contrasts with her international image as an enduring symbol of democracy, locked away 15 of the past 22 years for her beliefs until freed from house arrest in November, 2010.

Her steadfast support of Western economic sanctions over the years, however, divided the dissident community. Some felt they hurt the general public and allowed the junta and its cronies to carve up Myanmar's resources and other assets for themselves. Suu Kyi countered they were crucial to force the generals to produce sincere reforms, echoing U.S. and European views.

But as Myanmar changes, so too, is she. At 66, many see her now as more politically astute, more realistic.

"She wasn't always humble, she wasn't always flexible. But to succeed now, she needs to be flexible, and she is starting to show that," said one veteran Burmese journalist.

Her genuflection in the plane was emblematic of her position as opposition leader as well: monks have been at the forefront of the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar, and Suu Kyi had just finished speeches calling for changes to the army-drafted constitution at the heart of Myanmar's power structure.

Later, speaking with Reuters aboard the 1970s-era Myanma Airways aircraft, she ticked off her top priorities, including introducing the rule of law and ending several ethnic insurgencies. But above all, she wants to amend the 2008 constitution ensuring the military's strong influence over the resource-rich country of nearly 60 million people.

"That's our election platform," she said.


Her last campaign, ahead of the 1990 elections, awoke similar passions and ended with troops surrounding her lakeside villa, locking her under house arrest.

In the tumult before the election, thousands of pro-democracy protesters were killed, and the 43-year-old Suu Kyi emerged as an unlikely leader. She had a home in Oxford, England, a British husband and two sons. But as the daughter of assassinated independence hero Aung San, considered by many as the nation's founding father, she was urged to speak up.
Just months after returning to Yangon to care for her ailing mother in 1988, she shot to prominence.

"I have never really wanted to get involved in politics but the people of Burma had a very high regard for my father ... so obviously I felt a sense of responsibility," she told Reuters in an August, 1988, interview. "After the August demonstrations and the killings, I felt it would be too cowardly of me to sit tight in my house and pretend that nothing was happening."
In less than a year, she was drawing tens of thousands of supporters at rallies, becoming a symbol of democracy. After her arrest, the junta tightened its grip.


Two decades later, her star power is undimmed.

In Dawei on Sunday, thousands of ecstatic supporters turned out for a glimpse of her, lining dusty streets, cheering and waving little red-and-white flags, the colours of her opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party. Some wore shirts with her image. Many chanted "long live mother Suu".

At each stop, she roused them into wild cheers.

After her rallies in Dawei, state media reminded candidates that formal campaigning had yet to begin for the 48 available seats in the 1,158-seat legislature.

Suu Kyi's speeches on Tuesday in rural Myaing township toed that line. She did not mention the election or even her party, speaking instead about a British development project.

While in 1989 she defied authorities by holding illegal rallies and ended up under house arrest, Suu Kyi now seems less willing to provoke authorities into a backlash that could undermine the nascent reforms.

But her appearances in Dawei had the unmistakable feel of a campaign. She spoke on stages over loudspeakers in four villages, pressing her demand for changing the constitution whose clauses reserve a quarter of parliament's seats for the military, and warning that any government that lies to the people should be removed.

"There are certain laws which are obstacles to freedom of the people, and we will try to abolish these laws within the framework of the parliament," she said at one rally. "Only when democracy prevails will the people's power rule."


While little has changed physically on Myanmar's rutted streets, the government has seen a dramatic transformation the past six months. Last August, President Thein Sein, a former junta leader, stunned lawmakers in the capital Naypyitaw, urging them to pursue reforms, adopt good governance and do the unthinkable: freely voice opinions.

Since then, hundreds of political prisoners have been freed. The government regularly engages with Suu Kyi. Parliament, dismissed as a rubber-stamping sham when it opened a year ago, began a third session last week with lively debate on a reform programme that could lead the West to start lifting sanctions by mid-year.

Anti-corruption legislation is being drafted, along with bills ending the secrecy surrounding the national budget. A law is in the works that would overhaul a village administration system that has stacked election odds in favour of the dominant military-backed party. U.S. President Barack Obama has hailed Myanmar's "flickers of progress."

"We're finally moving in the right direction," said Sai Saung Si, 65, a lawmaker from northern Shan State and vice-chairman of the Shan Nationalities Development Party, a major ethnic party that won 18 seats in the lower house in 2010.

Each Sunday, he holds meetings in his home for villagers to raise issues. At first, people were afraid to speak up. But that's changing, he said. "When I go back to my town and when there are problems, because of my status as a member of parliament, what I say takes effect. It is working," he said.

He takes the most difficult problems directly to the relevant ministries. If they try to ignore him, he plays back the president's words. "I tell them the president wants good governance. They generally don't argue with that."


During Suu Kyi's swing through Dawei, children in white and green school uniforms lined the streets waving and cheering. Under the junta, they would have been strictly barred from opposition events.

The usual retinue of undercover police did not trail her every move as they did on a July 5 visit to Bagan, north of Yangon, where some feared a reprise of the 2003 bloody attack on her motorcade in which 70 supporters were killed.

In Yangon this week, journalists, government officials and media executives both local and foreign met in a conference room to discuss changes to laws that for a half-century meant that every song, book, cartoon, news story and planned piece of art would require approval by teams of censors rooting out political messages and criticisms of Myanmar's authoritarian system.

"Now we have a chance to change our policy," U Than Htay, Minister of Energy, told Reuters in an interview in Naypyitaw. "Once we took office, we have changed many things to develop our nation than previously." His first policy shift was to ban the export of natural gas from new fields in Myanmar, and use those resources to speed up development of local industry.


A turning point for Suu Kyi came on August 19 when she and President Thein Sein met one-on-one in Naypyitaw. The president has since repeatedly urged parliament to pursue reforms, while Suu Kyi has voiced support for the government.

What the two discussed has not been made public. Some people here think Thein Sein may have reassured Suu Kyi of not just the government's support but also of the military's.

More importantly, they speculate, Thein Sein conveyed another, crucial message: that Myanmar's former strongman, retired Senior General Than Shwe, had given his blessing to the reforms.

That is not entirely clear. But diplomats say it would allow him to retire in peace rather than face the possibility of an Arab Spring-style popular revolt.

The 78-year-old military strategist remains mostly out of public view and seldom speaks with outsiders. Dissidents paint him as a paranoid despot driven by a mixture of greed, fear and superstition. But the general who spent much of his military career as an expert in psychological warfare is also considered a brilliant tactician and is thought to remain influential.

Some skeptics in the democracy movement say Suu Kyi is working too closely with a government stacked with the same former generals who persecuted dissidents, fearing she is being exploited to convince the West to lift sanctions.

"If it will serve the country, let them exploit me, let them take advantage of me," Suu Kyi said in response to such criticism last year.


The breathtaking pace of reforms does pose plenty of challenges for her.

Her party lacks experience in administration and organising campaigns, but that also may be changing. In the Dawei region, t-shirts with her image or the party's name were distributed free of charge before her arrival in a sign of efficiency.

Another question is how much influence she can wield over the year-old parliament. But lawmakers interviewed by Reuters said it could be formidable.

"When she comes to the parliament, if she raises one issue, and this issue is very beneficial to the country, then who will dare go against it?" said Sai Saung Si of the Shan Nationalities Development Party.

Still, it will take time before many Burmese no longer fear their government - something Suu Kyi directly addressed.

"You must be able to go to bed without having to worry who will come and knock on your door at night, and you must be able to wake up with this in your mind," she told one rally at Dawei.

But she was also careful not to raise expectations too high, telling party leaders not to "give impossible pledges....When you pursuade someone to vote for you, it should be done spiritually."

Managing expectations could her most daunting challenge. If she wins the April 1 by-elections, her supporters expect her to accelerate the reform process and possibly transform parliament. And many have even higher hopes.

"As to whether we should feel optimistic about the changes happening in Myanmar, the key person is Aung San Suu Kyi," said Maung Tin Thit, an environmental activist and former political prisoner in Mandalay. "She is the person who will decide whether we should be optimistic. She will be president one day."
Myanmar agrees to ceasefire with Mon separatists
Reuters – Wed, Feb 1, 2012

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar agreed to a cease-fire with ethnic Mon separatists Wednesday, a peace mediator said, the latest in a series of tentative peace deals sought by a nominally civilian government trying to escape economic sanctions.

The cease-fire between the army and the New Mon State Party (NMSP) was the seventh such agreement between the government and ethnic rebel groups since former military junta leader and now President Thein Sein made a public call for peace talks with separatists late last year.

The cease-fire, one of 11 being sought by the government which came to power in 2010 in disputed polls, may strengthen Myanmar's case for getting Western sanctions lifted.

Along with freeing political prisoners and holding fair by-elections in April, the United States and European Union have made peace with ethnic militias a pre-requisite for a review of their embargoes.

The NMSP, the political wing of the Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA), which has fought for autonomy in eastern Mon State under various guises since 1948, agreed to set up liaison offices and restrict movement of weapons, a mediator told Reuters.

"The Mon State government and NMSP this morning signed a five-point preliminary agreement in principle," Hla Maung Shwe said by telephone from Mawlamyaing, the venue for the talks about 304 km (190 miles) east of the biggest city, Yangon.

Most ethnic groups seek some form of self-rule.

Deals have been reached with the Karen National Union (KNU) and Shan State Army (South).

But talks with the powerful Kachin Independence Army (KIA) have been derailed by persistent fighting that aid groups say has displaced as many as 50,000 people and underlines the high political, economic and diplomatic stakes at play.

Kachin State is central to the energy interests of both Myanmar and China, hosting crucial hydropower dams and twin pipelines that will transport oil and natural gas to supply southwestern Yunnan province.
February 1, 2012 8:50 pm
Financial Times - Myanmar refugees flee across Chinese border
By Gwen Robinson in Bangkok and Kathrin Hille in Beijing

Tens of thousands of refugees from Myanmar have fled north across the Chinese border in recent weeks, driven by escalating fighting between Myanmar’s military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), according to aid workers in China’s Yunnan province.

The growing wave of refugees highlights a decades-old conflict between ethnic Kachin rebels and the army that diplomats see as a blight on efforts by Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government to bring Myanmar out of international isolation.

Both the US and European Union have set the resolution of conflict with ethnic militias as a condition for lifting sanctions against Myanmar. For decades, the conflict has driven hundreds of thousands of villagers from their homes amid claims of military abuses including rape, forced labour and torture.

The government signed a preliminary ceasefire deal with ethnic Karen rebels in mid-January, and similar agreements have been reached with Shan, Chin and other ethnic rebel groups.

But repeated attempts at talks with the KIA have been derailed by persistent fighting, despite Mr Thein Sein ordering the army in early December to cease hostilities. Military commanders said they were defending themselves against Kachin offensives. Kachin representatives said KIA bases and surrounding areas were attacked without provocation.

A Kachin representative who works with refugees on the Myanmar-China border said on Tuesday fighting had ceased but neither side had pulled back their forces, which meant that “refugees cannot yet return”.

Chinese aid workers said the number of refugees had “greatly increased”. “Since January 1, armed conflict in the Kachin area has led about 40,000 refugees to roam along the Chinese border, 25,000 have already crossed the border and are seeking shelter in Yunnan,” the Central Western Missionary Prayer Fellowship, an unofficial church in China that is providing relief services for refugees, said.

Tao Meisi, an aid worker in Yingjiang county on the Myanmar border, said there were about 40,000 refugees in the area, including 20,000 people in Yingjiang alone.

“Almost all are women, children and old people and there are also pregnant and breast-feeding women among them,” Ms Tao said.

Many were in makeshift camps, others had found temporary shelter in schools and villages on both sides of the border,while thousands were roaming the woods, she said.

In contrast to previous bouts of fighting, the Chinese government appears to be trying to restrict the refugee flow into the country and has imposed a news blackout. Aid workers on the ground said Chinese authorities had tried to seal the border several times this month and the government, which issued an appeal to help refugees back in 2009, is not asking for humanitarian aid this time.

Asked for comment on reports that Myanmar troops had fired on a Chinese village sheltering refugees, the Chinese foreign ministry said it had not heard of the news.

The Kachin situation contrasts markedly with progress in peace talks with other ethnic rebel groups along Myanmar’s borders with Thailand and China. Diplomats say the Kachin conflict could be Mr Thein Sein’s single biggest challenge. Even the government’s chief negotiator, Aung Thaung, said last week that peace in Kachin state could take three years to achieve.

The KIA has emerged as “Myanmar’s most formidable insurgency”, according to the latest issue of Jane’s Terrorism and Security Monitor magazine. “Given its territorial positioning, military strength and political sophistication, the KIA has the potential to undermine the new government’s efforts and pose a significant threat, both militarily and economically,” it said.
The Malaysian Insider - The promise and peril of Myanmar’s economy — Simon Tay
February 02, 2012

FEB 2 — Just as Myanmar’s long-detained icon Aung San Suu Kyi began campaigning for a parliamentary seat, the country’s President Thein Sein made a state visit to Singapore.

Accompanied by a high-level delegation, the President’s visit concluded with an agreement for technical assistance and training in a number of key areas including finance, investment law and trade facilitation.

These two events over the same week demonstrate the ambitious pace of change and growing confidence in Myanmar. Reaching out to Singapore also brings into the spotlight an economic dimension to the ongoing political reform.

Businesses from many countries have been eager to explore investments in Myanmar. Considered the last large and untapped market in Asia, many sectors of the economy have been underdeveloped or else dominated by Chinese firms.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) — the regional group to which Myanmar belongs — wants to be supportive and so does Singapore, as a major hub for the region. This goes beyond the politics of having Myanmar assume the group’s chairmanship in 2014.

ASEAN’s plan for a more integrated economic community, targeted for 2015, can also gain.

Much, however, depends on whether sanctions put in place by the West for more than two decades are lifted. The European Union has already begun to unwind its sanctions. In Washington, a complex legal process is gaining bipartisan support.

There is cause for optimism, but is Myanmar ready for business and investment? Can the country follow up on its current political reform with parallel reforms to the economy and boost the country’s development?

A recent publication by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts the economy will grow at a rate of some 5.5 per cent for 2012. Such projections — in line with neighbouring Indochinese economies — are significant given the weak global outlook. But there is potential for greater, sustained growth.

Consider the country’s ample natural resources of oil and gas, as well as forestry products and minerals. Factor in a strategic location that can link China, India and Southeast Asia.

Add also that Myanmar has a sizeable population of some 54 million, many of whom are of working age and eager for jobs. The economy, among the region’s poorest at present, has the potential to grow.

There are, of course, concerns, many of which are typical of frontier economies — like the need for infrastructure and concerns about corruption and power shifts during this political change. But Myanmar also faces special challenges.

One key issue — as pointed out by the IMF — are exchange controls and currency stability. Officially, US$1 (RM3.10) is exchanged for just six Myanmar kyats. But in the widespread black market, the rate currently hovers around 750 kyats and has been as high in recent years as 1,250 kyats. Only with astute financial management can the country hope to liberalise its currency while maintaining macro-economic stability.

Another issue important for businesses coming in is that investment protection laws need improvement, with stable policies to be put in place. Recall that in the mid-1990s, some companies invested in the country, anticipating its membership in ASEAN. Many investors of that period were, however, left stranded by circumstances and policy changes.

Another issue to watch will be the central government’s effort to settle decades of fighting with different ethnic groups. The recent ceasefire deal with the Karen is a prime example. The Karen have been active in the Dawei industrial zone in the south of the country and this is now undergoing a major overhaul worth US$50 billion as a cornerstone of the government’s revitalisation plan.

As economic opening moves ahead, it will be essential that gains go beyond the circle of those in power. If development is to be sustained in tandem with political reform, the government must give attention to educating and training its people and meeting their basic needs, such as housing.

This sets the context for the agreement between the governments of Myanmar and Singapore. Tapping on Singapore’s expertise in finance, law and providing public services can help Myanmar kick-start economic development. The agreement was in many ways to be expected, given that the countries have long-standing ties in trade, as well as training programmes for public officials.

The spotlight thus far has understandably been on Myanmar’s dramatic political opening. Economic reform is now emerging as a twinned issue and the agreement with Singapore is but an early step on this path. Advocates for human rights and democracy will continue to watch developments in Myanmar but expect that businesses too will increasingly be part of the equation for change. — Today

* Simon Tay is chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.
New York Times - Myanmar: Total of Freed Political Prisoners Is Updated
Published: February 2, 2012

Amnesty International has now counted at least 299 political prisoners released by the Myanmar government among the total of 651 prisoners who were let out of confinement last month, according to Benjamin Zawacki, a Myanmar researcher based in Bangkok for the organization.

The prisoners were released Jan. 13 as part of the reforms that President Thein Sein of Myanmar, the first civilian leader of the country in nearly 50 years, has been pushing. Amnesty International estimated on Jan. 13 that at least 130 of the people released were political prisoners.

The organization’s updated count of 299 now matches a count from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a group based in Thailand.

Mr. Zawacki said in an e-mail that it was unclear whether Amnesty International’s list of names is exactly the same because the organization has not crosschecked the two lists.

The National League for Democracy, which is led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has its own list.
Moneycontrol.com - Myanmar plans jump in health, education spending
Published on Thu, Feb 02, 2012 at 18:22 | Source : Reuters
By Aung Hla Tun

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar's government has proposed a budget for the 2012/13 fiscal year that would give a huge boost to the health and education sectors but still provides far greater resources for the armed forces.

The military, which ruled Myanmar for almost five decades until a nominally civilian government took office in March last year, will receive a budget of 1.87 trillion kyat (about $2.3 billion at the widely used black market rate).

That is 14.4 percent of the total 13.04 trillion kyat budget for the year starting from April and 36 percent higher than last year. The total budget will increase 63 percent from the current year's 7.98 trillion.

Health would get 368 billion kyat, four times as much as the 92 billion in the last budget, while spending on education would almost double to 617 billion from 310 billion, according to information provided to Reuters by senate member Aye Maung.

The proposal, which is in line with the government's reform agenda, could help win it support at home and boost Myanmar's case for a lifting of Western sanctions.

The government has many of the same generals, now retired, who ruled the country with an iron fist, spending large sums of money on the armed forces and little on schools and hospitals, but the new administration insists the welfare of its people is now its priority.

"It is important that the collection of receipts and allocation of public finance is in accordance with the desires of the people. It is necessary that the public is content with it," Finance Minister Aung Hla was quoted as telling legislators this week.


For the new fiscal year, he is banking on 10.52 trillion kyat in receipts, leaving a 2.52 trillion kyat deficit. That compares with a projected 5.78 trillion kyat in receipts and a 2.20 trillion kyat deficit for the current fiscal year.

Dollar conversions from Myanmar's kyat currency are complicated by the country's two exchange rates: it has a fluctuating black market rate and an official rate that is barely used other than for some government data.

Myanmar is seeking help from the International Monetary Fund to unify its rates.

On Thursday, the kyat traded on the black market at about 820 to the dollar, compared with the official rate of 6 kyat.

According to the senator, Aung Hla also revealed that Myanmar owes some $11.02 billion in external debt run up decades ago, while its foreign currency reserves are a little over $7 billion.

Such data was rarely, if ever, published by the military governments that ran the Southeast Asian country under various guises since 1962, but the new government is doing its utmost to appear transparent as foreign investors knock at its door.

Hla Tun said that $8.41 billion out of the $11.02 billion in external debt was incurred during a socialist military regime from 1962 to 1988.

That included $6.39 billion owed to Japan, $802 million to the World Bank, $582 million to Germany and $357 million to the Asian Development Bank.

Debt run up after 1988 amounted to $2.61 billion, including $2.14 billion owed to China.

It was unclear if the totals included accumulated interest or whether the government was servicing any of the debt. The minister said that total foreign exchange reserves were $7.20 billion.
Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses - Myanmar’s Critical Role in Bolstering India’s Look East Policy
Arvind Gupta
February 2, 2012

India implemented a Look East Policy (LEP) in the early nineties, aimed at strengthening relations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states. In keeping with its bid for a leadership role in Asia and beyond, India seeks greater integration with ASEAN and is striving to create an Asian Economic Community. Looking back, it can be said that the Policy has been moderately successful. India’s relations with ASEAN and its member states have developed significantly over the years. The India–ASEAN Free Trade Agreement, signed in 2009 and operationalised in 2010, has been a tangible outcome of India’s LEP.

The key highlights of the LEP include:

India has summit-level relations with ASEAN, is a full dialogue partner in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), and is a member of the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting (ADMM+).

The next India–ASEAN Commemorative Summit will be held in New Delhi in 2012.

India is a founding member of the East Asia Summit (EAS).

India and ASEAN have an FTA in operation.

India–ASEAN trade has been increasing in recent years at a fast rate. According to Government of India (GoI) data, India’s trade with ASEAN in 2010–11 was US$ 57.9 billion; of this, exports accounted for US$ 27.3 billion, and imports accounted for US$ 30.6 billion. Trade with ASEAN constitutes about 10 per cent of India’s global trade.

Indian investments in the ASEAN countries are increasing.

More and more Indian professionals are working in ASEAN countries.

ASEAN welcomes cultural engagement with India. As part of this, the international Nalanda University is being set up in Bihar.

While these are positive developments, what are the prospects for India–ASEAN relations over the next 20 years? Undoubtedly, the past two decades of LEP have provided the foundation for rapid growth of India–ASEAN relations in the next 20 years. Yet, a critical and objective analysis of the LEP would show that its full potential has not yet been realised.

Connectivity between India and the ASEAN region is still poor.

The trade is below potential, especially if seen in comparison with ASEAN’s trade with China or Japan.

Investments in each others’ economies remain low.

People-to-people contacts remain at a low level. Visa restrictions continue to prevail, and tourism is below par.

BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral and Technical Cooperation) and MGC (Mekong-Ganga Cooperation) are performing much below their potential.

New areas of cooperation have not been tapped. India should invest in capacity building, strengthening of democratic institutions and engagement with civil society. The potential of cooperation in health, education and tourism also need to be utilised.

ASEAN counties are not yet comfortable with the idea of enhancing cooperation in defence and security areas due to the China factor.

Cooperation on counter-terrorism has not reached a critical mass.

Flagship projects like the Nalanda University have made slow progress.

A major lacuna in India’s LEP has been the absence of deep engagement with Myanmar, which is not only India’s neighbour—sharing a land border with India—but also a gateway for India to ASEAN. Closer engagement with Myanmar will give a boost to India’s LEP.

Another key impediment has been the relative lack of development in India’s North-East region. The North-East must be made an integral part of India’s LEP as both a key driver and a staging post for the Policy.

This will require, first and foremost, the settlement of the continuing insurgencies in the region as it would take care of many of India’s security concerns. It must be noted that considerable progress has been made in this regard in recent years. The recent improvement in India–Bangladesh relations has had a major security benefit for India in terms of winding down of the ULFA insurgency. Similarly, improving ties with Myanmar will help India in dealing with the Naga and Manipur insurgencies. Economic and social development in the region will also pay security dividends for India.

The North-East region has the potential to become a manufacturing hub for engaging with neighbouring Bangladesh, Myanmar, and ASEAN in general. For this, the North-East needs to be connected more densely with Bangladesh, Myanmar, and the ASEAN region beyond. This will require building infrastructure—roads, railway lines, river transport, airports, tourism infrastructure, border check-posts, educational, and health infrastructure, etc.—in the North-East on an urgent basis. The GoI needs to invest big sums in the region in order to make LEP a success. Moreover, linking the North-East to Myanmar and Bangladesh will help in the development of the region and address the issue of poverty.
Myanmar’s Role in India’s Look East Policy

The transition to democracy in Myanmar is a development of great significance for Indo–Myanmar relations. It will also impact the region as a whole. Since March 2011, when a civilian government came to power and political and economic reforms were subsequently initiated by President Thein Sein, Myanmar’s isolation is gradually receding. The US and the European Union are also contemplating engagement with Myanmar. Given its geo-strategic location and natural resources, Myanmar is on the verge of a major take-off.

President Thein Sein visited India in October 2011 and the Myanmar Foreign Minister, Wanna Maung Lwin, paid a visit in January 2012. India’s External Affairs Minister, S.M. Krishna, also visited Myanmar in 2011. Thus, there is mutual interest in taking bilateral ties forward. A key challenge for India is fast-tracking its relations with Myanmar as that will boost its Look East initiative.

The current state of Indo-Myanmar relations appears healthy. Both countries have set a target of doubling bilateral trade to $3 billion by 2015. According to information provided by the GoI to Parliament, India has offered assistance to Myanmar

“for road development projects to build physical connectivity with Myanmar. These include up-gradation of the Tamu-Kalewa-Kalemyoa road (about 160 km) in Myanmar across the border from Manipur; Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project, which envisages development of road and inland waterways from Sittwe port in Myanmar to Mizoram;
upgradation of Rhi-Tiddim Road (about 60 km) in Myanmar adjoining Mizoram; and some segments of Trilateral Highway Project (about 1,360 km) connecting Moreh (Manipur, India) to Mae Sot (Thailand) through Myanmar.”

The Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project and the Rhi-Tiddim project, once completed, will transform India’ North-East and the bordering Myanmar regions.

President Thein Sein’s visit to India in October 2011, when he was accompanied by a number of cabinet ministers, was a landmark event that sought to transform India-Myanmar relations. A number of agreements were signed during the visit, including a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the up-gradation of the Yangon Children's Hospital and Sittwe General Hospital, and a programme of Cooperation in Science & Technology for the period 2012–2015. India has already extended lines of credit worth $300 million for the development of railways, transport, power transmission lines, oil refinery, and OFC link, etc., to Myanmar. During the visit, India announced the extension of a new concessional facility of a $500 million line of credit to Myanmar for specific projects, including irrigation projects. The Indian Prime Minister announced that India would extend technical and financial support for the following new projects: setting up of an Advanced Centre for Agricultural Research and Education (ACARE) in Yezin, and a Rice Bio Park at a farm in Nay Pyi Taw. The Prime Minister also announced India’s support to Myanmar for setting up an Information Technology Institute in Mandalay and a second Industrial Training Centre at Myingyan with technical support from HMTI.

Energy security and the power sector are important areas for mutual cooperation. During President Thein Sein’s visit, it was agreed to enhance cooperation in the area of oil and natural gas. In this context, Myanmar welcomed the substantial investments made by Indian companies, including GAIL, ESSAR, ONGC, among others, in off-shore and on-shore blocks, and the construction of natural gas pipelines. Myanmar agreed to encourage further investments by Indian companies, both public and private, in its oil and natural gas sectors.

During the visit, the two sides reiterated their commitment to cooperate in the implementation of the Tamanthi and Shwezaye projects on the Chindwin River Basin in Myanmar. While the Detailed Project Report (DPR) on the Tamanthi project by NHPC has been submitted, the final updated DPR for Shwezaye will be available in March 2012. While designing these projects, India must factor in their impact on the local population and environment. It is essential to take their views into account.

Indo–Myanmar cooperation in the past has been marred by delays and uncertainty. These delays have cost India productive cooperation in the hydrocarbon sector, where China has been the gainer. Undoubtedly, there is far greater potential in Indo–Myanmar relations than the few projects India has undertaken so far. These projects should be competed at the earliest but more needs to be done.

The following steps can be considered by the GoI:

India should enhance its investments in Myanmar and set up a much larger sum of, say, $5 billion for investment in Myanmar’s economic and social projects in the form of grants and soft loans. This investment should be made in building critical infrastructure in Myanmar, infrastructure enhancing connectivity between India and Myanmar, and also in trilateral projects between India, Myanmar, and Thailand.

People-to-people contacts between India and Myanmar should be enhanced rapidly through liberalisation of the visa regime, educational and cultural cooperation, border areas development, and the development of tourism infrastructure.

Security cooperation between the two countries should be upgraded by establishing information sharing, joint patrolling of the borders, and cooperation on border management.
Indian investments in Myanmar should be increased in the areas identified by the latter, particularly in minerals, energy, and agriculture.

India and Myanmar should enhance cooperation in maritime security.

India should share the benefits of its science and technology with Myanmar. A 10-year programme of science and technology cooperation should be established and implemented.
India should share its experience in strengthening democratic institutions with Myanmar.

The two counties should coordinate their approaches on the issue of cooperation in BIMSTEC, ARF, EAS, and ADMM+, etc.

Myanmar has a significant Indian diaspora, which is well integrated in the local society. The diaspora can play an important role in strengthening India–Myanmar relations.

The existing Joint Committee at the Commerce Ministry level should be elevated to a Joint Economic Commission to take a holistic and comprehensive view of the bilateral economic relationship. A business forum consisting of businessmen on both sides can also be set up. High-level mechanisms of officials should be set up to focus on greater connectivity between India and Myanmar.

An MoU for defence cooperation between the two sides should be considered.

The two sides should consider signing a cultural exchange programme.

Given the affinity between Myanmar and India’s north-eastern states, cooperation agreements to promote closer cultural and trade affinity between the two sides should be considered.

As Myanmar opens up to the outside world, India can aid it immensely in nurturing its nascent democracy. The two neighbours have a historic opportunity to come close to each other once again and transform their bilateral relations as well as the larger region. Myanmar is rich in natural resources, and consistent and long-standing cooperation with India will help it develop its true potential. For India, cooperation with Myanmar will help transform the North-East, bolster its LEP, and help it emerge as a major Asian power.

The author is the Director General, IDSA, New Delhi. This presentation was made at an International Conference on “Myanmar : Bridging South and Southeast Asia" held at Jamia Milia Islamia University, New Delhi on 30-31 January 2012.The views expressed in this article are personal.
Washington Post - Possible repatriation of 1 million refugees looms as Myanmar undergoes rapid reforms
By Associated Press, Published: January 31

MAE LA REFUGEE CAMP, Thailand — The children who live in this camp for Burmese refugees have known no other life. Neither have many of their parents — or their grandparents.

Yet now, surprisingly rapid reforms and cease-fires under way in Myanmar are opening the prospects for the return of one of the world’s largest refugee populations — some 1 million Burmese huddled in frontier camps and hideouts across five countries.

“There’s a time for war, and a time for peace. Sixty-three years is long enough for killing,” Pastor Simon Htoo told more than 300 young Burmese refugees gathered for morning prayers in a weathered, jungle church in Mae La, a camp near the Myanmar-Thai border. “Hope to see you all soon in our beautiful land.”

The looming task for the international community will be massive. One of the least known diaspora of recent times includes an array of ethnic groups and religions — Buddhist, Christian and Muslim — driven from their homeland by oppression of political dissidents and brutal military campaigns against Myanmar’s minorities.

The fighting and human rights abuses still persist in some areas, and even if stopped, many refugees say the hatreds, suspicions and double-crosses of past decades must be overcome before they feel safe enough to return.

One of the ethnic groups, the Karen, has been waging a guerrilla war for greater autonomy for 63 years from iron-fisted military regimes. The Kachin took up arms again last year.

“Signing a cease-fire is very easy — you can do it in a few minutes — but implementation is a different matter. That depends not on the smiles on their faces, but their sincerity, what is really in their hearts. Maybe it’s another trick,” Htoo, a Karen Baptist pastor, said after his sermon in this camp sheltering more than 50,000 refugees.

When they do return, the refugees will emerge from Bangladesh, India, Thailand, Malaysia and China, a refugee mass that with the Iraqis and Afghans ranks among the largest in the world.

Their living conditions vary vastly. In the fetid settlements of Bangladesh, as many as 400,000 illegal Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority, hover on the edge of existence. Others live in a well-established string of U.N.-recognized camps along the Thai border, home to three generations who have spent their entire lives there.

Most would be returning to border regions of razed villages, minefields, traumatized people and almost nonexistent support systems in a country that is already among the world’s poorest. Many fear that with the world quick to applaud Myanmar’s reforms, pressure will mount to force them back before conditions are right.

“People in the refugee camps must be given a choice: to go home, stay in Thailand or be resettled abroad. We don’t trust Burmese politics because things are still very unclear,” says Dr. Cynthia Maung, a refugee doctor they call “Mother Teresa of Burma” whose Thai border clinic has treated thousands. “Nobody is going back now.”

Although preliminary plans for repatriation are being discussed among aid organizations and refugee leaders, roughly 1,000 are still fleeing into Thailand every month, says Jack Dunford, veteran head of the Thai Burma Border Consortium, which provides basic food and supplies to the Thai camps.

Thailand insists that there will be no forceful repatriation “until the situation is safe,” Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongphakdi told The Associated Press. “No time frame has been set for their return.”

But in Bangladesh, more than 10,000 are set for repatriation, and negotiations are under way with Myanmar for the rest to follow.

“Right now we are motivating the refugees to return home since we believe the human rights situation has improved,” said Firoz Salahuddin, the Bangladesh government official in charge of the repatriation. “But it’s a difficult task. Refugees are still fearful and need a lot of persuasion.”

Those who qualify can seek resettlement in third countries, which have taken 114,000 from the Asian region since 2005, according to the International Organization for Migration. Of these, 90,000 have gone to the Un

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