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

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

AFP - US announces limited Myanmar sanctions lifting
AFP - Crowds cheer Suu Kyi on Myanmar campaign trail
AP - Suu Kyi hits the campaign trail in Myanmar
Reuters - U.S. lifts restrictions to support IFIs work in Myanmar
Reuters - Up to 10,000 Myanmar refugees seek refuge in China
Brisbane Times - Suu Kyi campaign leaves Burmese leaders on edge
The Christian Science Monitor - Censors lighten their touch on Myanmar's media
GlobalPost - Burma: regime critic Aung Zaw allowed inside after two decades in exile
People's Daily Online - Myanmar proposes holding ethnic groups conference
Lim Kit Siang (Blog) - Is Myanmar the new Asian tiger?
New York Times - C.I.A. Chief Signals Possible Visit to Myanmar
UPI - London committed to Myanmar
The Daily Star - Formal shipping line to Burma to open soon
ABC Radio Australia - Regional delegates attend Australian-organised Burma gathering
ASIAONE - Myanmar mulls civil service pay hike to combat graft
Jakarta Post - Opinion: Economic dimensions in Myanmar’s opening
Washington Post - Obama authorizes US sanctions waiver for Myanmar to ease restrictions on multilateral aid
The Age - Officials seek to thwart Suu Kyi
The Irrawaddy - Fire Leaves More Than a Thousand Homeless
The Irrawaddy - Workers Strike over Chinese New Year Wage Dispute
The Irrawaddy - Thousands Cheer Suu Kyi on Bassein Campaign Trip
Mizzima News - NLD AIDS activist to run for Parliament
Mizzima News - KIO, gov’t can’t agree on meeting location
Mizzima News - Supreme Court to hear army unlawful arrest case
DVB News - Four Karen armies in talks over alliance
DVB News - Western companies ‘still wary’ of Burma
US announces limited Myanmar sanctions lifting
AFP News – 9 hours ago

The United States lifted one of its many sanctions against Myanmar in recognition of recent positive moves toward political reform in the country after decades of direct military rule.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed a partial waiver of restrictions imposed on Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the State Department said in a statement.

The waiver will allow assessment missions and limited technical assistance in Myanmar by international financial institutions (IFIs) such as the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.

A nominally-civilian government came to power in Myanmar last year following controversial November 2010 elections and has since surprised observers with a number of positive moves including a major release of political prisoners.

Clinton in December became the first US secretary of state to visit Myanmar in more than 50 years in a trip that gave her "some grounds for encouragement," and where she met its leaders and pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

The statement issued Monday noted Clinton had committed to supporting IFI assessments during her visit to Myanmar "in response to encouraging reforms under way in that country."

Those steps included measures to pave the way for Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy to participate in upcoming parliamentary by-elections, release of political prisoners, broader civil liberties, and preliminary cease fire talks with certain ethnic minority groups, the statement said.

"The (Myanmar) government has also taken some steps to address deficiencies cited in the department's June 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report," it added.

The political situation in Myanmar, however, remains tense, with top United Nations human rights envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana Sunday stating the by-elections would be a "key test" of the army-backed regime's commitment to reform.

The US announcement also came two days after one of Myanmar's most prominent rebel groups warned that a cease fire deal seen as a breakthrough in relations with the regime was "fragile", as ethnic unrest continues to cloud reforms.

The Karen National Union (KNU) signed a pact with a delegation of ministers from the new government on January 12 in a move that raised hopes of a permanent end to one of the world's longest-running civil conflicts.
Crowds cheer Suu Kyi on Myanmar campaign trail
AFP – 21 mins ago

Aung San Suu Kyi was met by thousands of cheering supporters in Myanmar's Irrawaddy delta Tuesday on her second campaign trip ahead of by-elections that could sweep her into parliament.

Huge crowds clogged the streets of Pathein to see the democracy icon, whose decision to contest the April 1 vote is seen as a key sign of reform in a country that emerged from nearly half a century of direct army rule last year.

Local people waved pictures of the Nobel laureate and held out flowers, while saffron-robed monks waved the flag of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

"We all need to work for free and fair elections," Suu Kyi told supporters packed into the town's sports stadium. "I saw many young people on my way here -- they are the force, the future of the country."

Suu Kyi's latest foray outside of Yangon comes after a planned two-day visit to the central city of Mandalay on Saturday was postponed because the venue offered by the authorities was too small.

In her first campaign trip to the southern city of Dawei in late January, streets were flooded with tens of thousands of local people.

Suu Kyi's participation in the April vote is likely to lend legitimacy to Myanmar's parliament, which is dominated by former generals.

The April polls, held to fill places vacated by those elected in 2010 who have since become ministers and deputy ministers in the government, will mark the first time Suu Kyi has been able to directly participate in a Myanmar vote.

The NLD is running for all 48 seats up for grabs in the polls and Suu Kyi is standing in a rural constituency near Yangon, but the seats available are not enough to threaten a majority
held by the army-backed ruling party.

A new regime has surprised observers with reforms including welcoming the NLD back into the political mainstream, signing ceasefire deals with ethnic minority rebels and releasing hundreds of political prisoners.

The nominally-civilian government came to power following November 2010 elections that were marred by widespread complaints of cheating and the absence of Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest at the time.

The United States on Monday lifted one of its many sanctions against Myanmar in recognition of recent positive moves and other Western nations have also tentatively begun easing punitive measures.

But controversy surrounding the 2010 vote means the upcoming by-elections will be heavily scrutinised.
Suu Kyi hits the campaign trail in Myanmar
By AYE AYE WIN | Associated Press – 3 hrs ago

PATHEIN, Myanmar (AP) — Crowds of supporters greeted Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi with thunderous applause as she embarked Tuesday on her first campaign trip since becoming an official candidate for April elections.

The 66-year-old Nobel Peace laureate traveled for the first time in two decades to the Irrawaddy Delta, Myanmar's rice bowl and the region most devastated by Cyclone Nargis in 2008.

Crowds lined the roads to shout support to Suu Kyi at every major town along her four-hour drive south from Yangon to Pathein, the regional capital. More than 10,000 people packed into a sports stadium under a sweltering sun to hear her speak.

One giant banner strung through the stands hailed Suu Kyi, the longtime political prisoner, as "Mother Democracy."

A later rally in an open field in the town of Myaungmya, 19 miles (32 kilometers) south of Pathein, drew a similar-sized crowd, and held special personal meaning for Suu Kyi.

"I am happy to be here because it is the hometown of my mother," she told the crowd. "There is some blood of Myaungmya in me."

Suu Kyi, who had been living abroad after graduating from Britain's Oxford University, became enmeshed in Myanmar's politics when she came home to care for her ailing mother, Khin Kyi, as mass pro-democracy protests were breaking out in 1988.

Suu Kyi's return to electoral politics is another test of the reforms of the new nominally civilian government that took power last year after decades of military control. Her latest trip came a day after the Election Commission formally accepted her candidacy for an April parliamentary by-election.

Suu Kyi last visited the Irrawaddy region during a campaign tour in 1989, when she faced down soldiers in the town of Danuphyu who had taken firing positions with their rifles aimed at her. It was one of several dramatic confrontations with the ruling military junta ahead of 1990 elections, which Suu Kyi's party won but the junta refused to recognize.

"I remember the last time I was here 20 years ago," Suu Kyi told the ecstatic crowd, where some fainted under the hot sun. "I see the same kind of support."

Outlining her party's objectives for entering Parliament, Suu Kyi said the National League for Democracy would seek to end ethnic conflicts and "try to achieve internal peace" and the rule of law. She called on supporters to ensure that April elections are free and fair.

"Please don't forget to vote for the NLD!" Suu Kyi told the crowd, which listened raptly as she spoke.

"Those who are standing in the front rows please sit down so other people can see," Suu Kyi said at one point. Suddenly, thousands of people sat down in unison.

The upcoming by-election is being held to fill 48 parliamentary seats vacated by lawmakers who were appointed to the Cabinet or other posts.

Suu Kyi is running for a seat representing Kawhmu, a poor district south of Yangon, the country's largest city, but has launched a national campaign to lobby support for other members of her party.

The new government's rapid reforms have surprised even some of the country's toughest critics. It has released hundreds of political prisoners, signed cease-fire deals with ethnic rebels, increased media freedoms and eased censorship laws.

Myanmar's government hopes the changes will prompt the lifting of economic sanctions imposed under the junta's rule. Western governments and the United Nations have said they will review the sanctions only after gauging whether the April polls are carried out freely and fairly.

On Monday, the U.S. eased one of its many sanctions as a reward for Myanmar's progress. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton signed a waiver that should make it easier for Myanmar to secure help from the World Bank and other international financial institutions by lifting U.S. opposition to them conducting assessments.
U.S. lifts restrictions to support IFIs work in Myanmar
Reuters – 9 hrs ago

(Reuters) - The United States has eased some restrictions on Myanmar to support ongoing work by International Financial Institutions (IFIs) like the Asian Development Bank carrying out economic assessments and technical assistance to its new civilian government.

The partial waiver was signed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday in the latest sign of a step-up in U.S. engagement with an impoverished country squeezed by Western sanctions and run for 49 years by military juntas until 10 months ago.

The nominally civilian government has since overseen a series of surprise reforms that have thrust into the spotlight the issue of Western sanctions imposed on past regimes for their human right violations.

The move in support of IFI involvement is seen as small but symbolic, a quid-pro-quo to acknowledge the reforms while still maintaining tight sanctions that were first introduced in 1988. Officials in Washington say the process of ending the embargoes on the former Burma would be complex and lengthy.

"Assessments by international financial institutions will provide critical means to gain a greater understanding of Burma's economic situation, particularly its severe poverty alleviation needs and capacity gaps," the state department said in a statement.

The International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) have been sending technical support teams to Myanmar in the past few months to compile assessments of the country's long-stagnant and murky economy and give advice on ways to unify its complex official and unofficial currency exchange systems.


Those missions come as the government continues to introduce reforms not seen in decades. They include the release of more than 600 political prisoners in a series of amnesties since last May, ceasefire talks with ethnic rebel groups and the loosening of tight media censorship and bans on protests.

Clinton welcomed the changes so far during a landmark visit in December and pledged to forge closer ties with Myanmar. Washington has since agreed to upgrade diplomatic relations by exchanging full ambassadors after a two-decade absence.

It also comes after the European Union temporarily suspended travel bans on top government officials and the president.

U.S. sanctions preclude U.S. aid and rule out financial help from IFIs such as the World Bank, in which the United States is a big shareholder and has veto rights.

The World Bank and ADB ceased operations in the country in the mid-1980s and are still owed arrears, which have to be repaid before they can come back. Any aid would require the government to respect governance standards that have eluded its leaders for decades, including budget transparency.
Up to 10,000 Myanmar refugees seek refuge in China
By Sui-Lee Wee | Reuters – 28 mins ago

BEIJING (Reuters) - Thousands of refugees from fighting in remote northern Myanmar have flooded into makeshift tent cities erected on the other side of the long border with China, creating a humanitarian crisis and a complex diplomatic dilemma for Beijing.

Up to 10,000 refugees have fled to an area in southwestern Yunnan province, driven by fighting between Myanmar's military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), one of the country's most powerful rebel groups, five aid groups told Reuters. Many of the refugees are women, children and elderly people.

Fighting erupted after a 17-year-old ceasefire broke down last June, sending ethnic Kachins fleeing to the border area.

The conflict could jeopardize the former Burma's efforts to convince the European Union and the United States to lift wide-ranging sanctions against the country, which is slowing efforts to open up and democratize after decades of army rule.

The EU and the United States have made peace deals with ethnic militias one of the pre-requisites for lifting the sanctions. Some groups have fought the government since independence from Britain in 1947.

Although the intensity of the fighting has eased, aid groups fear that more people will flee and exacerbate dire conditions. The Chinese government tolerates the camps, but does not officially recognize their existence.

"All of them don't have pure drinking water," La Rip, the coordinator of local aid group Relief Action Network for IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) and Refugees (RANIR), said by telephone from Myanmar.

"In some camps, outbreaks of dysentery are taking place. We do not have enough food items to provide for them. We have a very limited budget for them. And they do not have regular incomes, nowhere to work and nowhere to earn money."


The risk of fighting spreading across the highly militarized border region and of the arrival of new waves of refugees are particular worries for China's stability-obsessed rulers.

Although long wary of poor, unstable Myanmar, China has invested heavily in the country. It has brushed off Western sanctions to build infrastructure, hydropower dams and twin oil-and-gas pipelines to help feed southern China's growing energy needs and avoid the Malacca Strait shipping bottleneck.

Yunnan provincial authorities have told the refugees to leave, but have not threatened force or sealed the border, aid groups said.

"It poses a dilemma for the Chinese; it could cause strained relations with the Burmese government if they are seen as being supportive of the Kachin Independence Army, KIA, and by extension the refugees," Bertil Lintner, a Myanmar expert, said in emailed comments.

"On the other hand, they can't be too hostile to the Kachins, and the Kachin refugees, either."

China's Foreign Ministry last summer called for restraint from both sides in the conflict and said the government was providing humanitarian help, though aid groups deny this.

The Yunnan government denies the very existence of an influx of refugees -- aid agencies say the biggest camps are in the towns of Nongdao and La Ying.

"At the moment, what we know is that there is no such situation," Li Hui, director of the Yunnan information office, told Reuters. "Everything is normal on the China-Myanmar border."

Fighting has continued despite an order in December by President Thein Sein to end operations. That cast doubt on whether the former general leading the country has full control over the military.

In the past eight months, the refugee population inside China has grown dramatically, said Moon Nay Li, coordinator for the Kachin Women's Association in Thailand. She says more than 10,000 Kachin refugees are in Yunnan, most of them women.

Maersili, a local activist, said there is no longer space in the camps for refugees to sleep. Four to five families have to squeeze into a room, without sufficient bedding, he said.
International aid organizations such as U.N. agencies have not been able to provide sustained assistance, aid groups said.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) can only provide aid "when it's requested by the government to do so," Giuseppe de Vincentis, regional representative for China and Mongolia, said, adding that "there is not such a request."
Brisbane Times - Suu Kyi campaign leaves Burmese leaders on edge
Hamish McDonald
February 8, 2012

RANGOON: Burma's opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has resumed the campaign trail for a slew of parliamentary byelections, with her popularity causing evident nervousness in the new government dominated by former army generals.

Before her mass meeting in Pathein, a port city in the Irrawaddy delta, local authorities suddenly announced an unusual ''pre-entrance test'' exam for local students seeking to enrol in universities, ensuring that large numbers of students would be otherwise engaged while she was in town.

Last weekend, Ms Suu Kyi called off a planned rally in the second-biggest city, Mandalay, after authorities refused to let her National League for Democracy use a large football stadium, instead offering a smaller field.

Her party is running candidates for all the 40 seats vacated in the 440-seat lower house of parliament in the capital Naypyidaw by members elevated to ministerial and other executive positions.

The seats are scattered across the country, mostly in the central plains dominated by the ethnic Burman majority and the result will be a pointer to elections due in 2015.

The military has 25 per cent of the seats, voted ''according to discipline'', and the constitution can be amended only by a 75 per cent vote, but the prospect of a sweep by Ms Suu Kyi and the NLD, and formation of a government, is a nightmare for the military's old guard.

Yet Ms Suu Kyi's decision to enter the race - after previously boycotting the November 2010 elections and swearing not to accept the 2008 constitution engineered by the former military regime - is also seen as a reflection of consideration by the NLD that the new President, former general Thein Sein, might be building a popular political persona himself.

As well as meeting Ms Suu Kyi and drawing her into the political system, the President has begun releasing political prisoners, suspended a much-criticised Chinese dam on the upper Irrawaddy and signalled intentions to open Burma's moribund economy.

''Daw Suu [or ''Aunty Suu'' as Ms Suu Kyi is often called here] is the conscience of our nation and icon of freedom, but to be honest the action on reform has to be attributed to this government,'' a prominent local business figure said. ''The credit should fairly go to our current leadership.''

A former senior army staff officer who is now a political adviser to Thein Sein, Ko Ko Hlaing, said critics had previously dismissed the new government as ''old wine in a new bottle'' but were now realising the political climate was completely different to that under the former regime of Senior General Than Shwe, now formally retired.

''In this byelection the environment has changed because relations between the newly elected President and Daw Suu are very different from the previous relations between Senior General Than Shwe and Daw Suu,'' Ko Ko Hlaing said. ''We have to remember there is a new government and a new atmosphere. So the political culture and the mood among political forces are not so similar to the previous time.''

Previously a prime minister appointed by the State Peace and Development Council, the military's ruling body, Thein Sein emerged as a conciliatory figure, meeting a stream of foreign leaders as his prisoner releases and registration of the NLD as eligible to contest the byelections earned recognition.

''As a military man everyone has to obey the order of his superior,'' Ko Ko Hlaing said. ''That's why under Senior General Than Shwe he acted like a good staff … When he takes the responsibility of state power and he is the most senior person in the country he has to make decisions by himself. So he can do everything that he thinks is correct.

''The situation of the country is not the same … We have to play according to the rules of the new game. According to the new constitution, as a democratic government, so there will be very significant differences between the activities of the present government and the previous government.''

The Herald's Asia-Pacific editor, Hamish McDonald, is in Burma as a guest of Melbourne University's Asialink for a dialogue with Burmese and other south-east Asian officials, businessmen, and opinion leaders.
The Christian Science Monitor - Censors lighten their touch on Myanmar's media
Myanmar's press has long been heavily restricted. But as the government promotes reforms, articles about just-released political prisoners and upcoming elections are getting into print.
By Simon Roughneen, Correspondent / February 7, 2012

Ko Ko Gyi unrolls a copy of the Messenger, one of 30 privately owned news magazines in Myanmar (Burma), and points – with an expression of disbelief – to a prominent picture of himself on the front page.

“I never imagined a Burmese paper could have a cover story with a full-page photo of me,” he says, holding up the magazine during an interview at one of Yangon's many tea shops.

Mr. Ko Ko Gyi was one of some 300 political prisoners released in a Jan. 13 amnesty by the government. The article goes into the details of what it was like for him to spend 18 years in jail after taking part in pro-democracy protests in Yangon in 1988.

Why is Myanmar making these changes? 5 countries with the longest ongoing US sanctions(http://ping.fm/Vv0ph)

“It is not so long since such coverage would not have been possible here,” says U Myint Kyaw, editor of Yangon Press International, an online-only news start-up in the country's main city.

Since 1962, Myanmar’s dictatorship has jailed the opposition, beat up monks, denied aid to disaster victims, and run scorched-earth campaigns against ethnic minorities. For the past four years, it has been ranked among the world's five worst jailers of the press. But in an about-face, Myanmar’s military-backed civilian government is taking some major steps toward democratization, including promising free and fair elections, calling for peace in the restive ethnic areas, and releasing hundreds of political prisoners. Now, the leashed media is starting to see the beginning of some loosening.

Despite the new freedoms – and a promise to replace the old law of "pre-censorship" with a new system under which publications will be "reviewed" after they hit the newsstands – the country's censors, known officially as the Press Scrutiny and Registration Department (PSRD), still require all publications to submit political news content to them for vetting prior to publication.

At the Myanmar Times, the sole foreign-backed publication, an editor who asked not to be named, as reforms in Myanmar are still at the early stages, displayed a draft of the latest weekly edition, returned by the PSRD with red ink circling sections that could not be published.

A sentence that the PSRD ordered cut, which was from a Reuters wire story about Myanmar's new parliament, read, “derided as a well-choreographed sham in one of the world's most authoritarian countries when it opened a year ago.”

To be sure, the editor says, “writing about corruption is difficult, as is writing anything criticizing the Constitution.”

However, articles that would have been unthinkable a year ago, he explains, are making it past the censors, including pieces looking at the international reaction to reforms and detailed reporting on the views of Aung San Suu Kyi, the high-profile opposition leader who will run in an April 1 by-election for parliament.

The promise of a new media law

Before elections, the parliament is slated to discuss the possibility of a new media law during the coming weeks – the next set of hoped-for changes in a reforming Myanmar.
Until now, none of Myanmar’s recent media reforms have been fortified with actual amendments to existing legislation.

In the small, fan-cooled first-floor office of Myanmar Dhana magazine, editor Thiha Saw says official reform would be a major leap for media. “Hopefully the government will scrap the censor, they have said they will do so.”

A journalist from Myanmar Post, again asking not to be named, said he has concerns about some of the broad outlines of the proposed media law. So far, he says, “it does not make clear what can be published online."

Mr. Thiha Saw says, “We have to play some kind of guessing game, as we don't yet know what will be in the law.”

Publishers say an ideal law would drop censorship, and also allow daily newspapers in Myanmar, where newspapers can publish only once a week at the moment.

“It will be a challenge for our resources, but one we are eager to face,” says Thiha Saw, who also publishes a weekly news journal called Open News.

Khin Maung Swe, head of the opposition National Democratic Force (NDF), stressed that daily newspapers could help people in remote rural areas know more about what was happening in their country.

On top of that, because the market is restricted to weeklies, they are something of a niche product, and relatively expensive. If the law is changed to allow dailies, it would mean publishers could produce more, sell more, have a wider reach, and hence, presumably, price them more cheaply.

"Right now, the weekly journals only sell in the cities and towns, and they are too expensive," says Mr. Khin Maung Swe. "Perhaps daily papers could sell more widely and for a lower price that people can afford, like 100 or 150 kyat [about 15 cents]."

More news freedom

BBC and VOA Myanmar language services have typically been denied access to the country in the past, but both had representatives at a rare media conference held in Yangon earlier this week.

And in another indication that the Myanmar's media is becoming freer – there is talk of the possible return of exiled journalists and publications run by activists who fled repression at home.

In the past, Myanmar's authorities jailed journalists working undercover in Myanmar for exiled media groups such as Democratic Voice of Burma.

Now, Mizzima, a New Delhi-based news service focused on Myanmar, is in discussions with the Myanmar authorities about opening a bureau in the country.

“It is good if they come back, as it shows the situation for media here is improving,” says Myint Kyaw.

Thiha Saw cautions that even after the proposed reforms, Myanmar is unlikely to have an unfettered press. “There will still be some government controls here, despite the changes taking place,” he says. "We will have more press freedom here, but it will not be like the US or the UK."
GlobalPost - Burma: regime critic Aung Zaw allowed inside after two decades in exile
Regime allows one of its most high-profile detractors to visit
Patrick Winn February 7, 2012 02:47

Aung Zaw, a Burmese exile who founded and continues to operate The Irrawaddy. The news outlet is known for its strong critiques of Burma's army-managed regime. (Screengrab)
Journalist-in-exile Aung Zaw, one of the most prominent critics of Burma's government abuses, has been allowed to visit his homeland after two decades living abroad.

This is surprising even to those growing numb to the flurry of recent changes in Burma, officially titled Myanmar.

Aung Zaw runs The Irrawaddy, an online magazine known for detailing the misdeeds of Burma's goverment. He's also published in the Asian Wall Street Journal and the Bangkok Post in Thailand, where his operation is based. (Sample Aung Zaw headline: "Junta's dream is the world's nightmare.")

Until recently, information from inside the authoritarian state has been a precious commodity. Burmese who gather news in their own country have traditionally done so at the risk of detainment or worse.

"I have always wanted to return to Burma as a journalist,” he said, according to The Irrawaddy. “I expect to be very busy meeting with fellow journalists and possibly with government officials.”

Aung Zaw has been granted a five-day journalist visa.

Now that the government has allowed one of its best-known detractors to visit, is there any journalist that's still forbidden from entering Burma?
People's Daily Online - Myanmar proposes holding ethnic groups conference
(Xinhua) 15:30, February 07, 2012

YANGON, Feb. 7 (Xinhua) -- A conference, similar to the historical Panlong Conference and participated by all ethnic groups in Myanmar, will be held in Nay Phi Taw to strive for peace in the country, local media reported Tuesday.

U Aung Thaung, leader of the central government's peace-making group, made the disclosure in Taunggyi, Shan state over the weekend, said the Myanmar Newsweek.

On Feb.12, 1947, ethnic leaders met at the Panlong Conference in northeastern Shan state, sponsored under the leadership of late independence hero General Aung San, and signed the Panlong Agreement to strive in unity for the country's independence from the British colonial rule.

According to the report, eight out of 11 ethnic armed groups have reached preliminary peace pacts with the government at respective levels.

Meanwhile, peace talks between Myanmar's central government and Kachin ethnic armed group -- Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) had been held in Ruili, southwest China's border town in Yunnan Province, for two times over the past two months without reaching agreement.

However, the two sides agreed that the peace talks will continue to build trust andrealize eternal peace.

President U Thein Sein made a peace offer on Aug. 18, 2011, calling on anti-government ethnic armed groups to hold peace talks to end insurgency and build internal peace in the country.
Lim Kit Siang (Blog) - Is Myanmar the new Asian tiger?
by Pepe Escobar
Al Jazeera
07 Feb 2012

Despite some reforms, Myanmar remains a hardcore military dictatorship and lacks a civil society.

Bangkok, Thailand – While the big story of 2012 in south-west Asia is the increasingly lethal US-Iran psychodrama, there’s no bigger story in south-east Asia in the Year of the
Dragon than the controlled opening of Myanmar.

Everyone and his neighbour, East and West, has been trekking to Myanmar since US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit last November. It’s virtually impossible these days to book a flight or a hotel room.

Like Ashgabat in Turkmenistan and Astana in Kazakhstan a few years ago, the new capital Naypyidaw (“the abode of kings”) – built from scratch with natural gas wealth halfway between Rangoon and Mandalay – is surging as a new promised land.

In parallel, the European Union (EU) has lifted a travel ban on senior Myanmar officials. The Myanmar delegation was virtually mobbed at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos. Imagine rows of European CEOs salivating to the tune of Rail Transport Deputy Minister U Lwin saying: “Like Norway and Sweden, we have access to two seas and have fishing potential.”

Talk about a lot of fish to fry; the global mandarins of turbo-capitalism in crisis are falling over themselves with all that gold, gas, oil, teak, jade, uranium, coal, zinc, copper, precious gems, loads of hydropower and – crucially – cheap labour, all there for the taking.

This may not be exactly a letter of recommendation – considering the ignominious past record – but still the IMF, after a two-week trip, declared Myanmar as the “next economic frontier in Asia”.

And this even before the US and the EU lift all their sanctions, arguably within the next few months, supposing the April 1 by-elections – where the star of the show will be The Lady, the iconic Aung San Suu Kyi – and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party – are really free and fair.

In the long run, Myanmar will also need to be compatible with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Economic Community playbook, to go into full effect by 2015. Myanmar takes over the chairmanship of ASEAN in 2014.

Yet for all the hoopla around President Thein Sein’s “economic reforms” and the usual suspect companion rhetoric of “untapped markets” and “wide interest from foreign investors”, this is still an ultra-hardcore military dictatorship.

Thein Sein, a former prime minister, is an ex-general and member of the junta. He became president less than a year ago, after sham elections in November 2010 from which Suu Kyi was excluded.

It’s always crucial to remember that the 1990 general election was overwhelmingly won by the NLD. The junta ignored it – and kept Suu Kyi under house arrest for no less than 14 of the past 20 years. There’s no guarantee against the junta deciding to re-arrest Suu Kyi all over again – when no one is watching.

The amazing race

What’s certain is that the (remixed) road to Mandalay will be long. Myanmar badly needs foreign capital.

It starts with a new investment law – spun by Myanmar officials as “the most attractive in the region”, and including an eight-year tax exemption if projects are profitable for the country. The law may be approved by the end of this month.

Then there’s the herculean task of completely overhauling a supremely corrupt and incompetent legal system, and at least trying to contain corruption in all areas of activity.

According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, Myanmar is only less corrupt than North Korea and Somalia.

The infrastructure is in tatters – from erratic electricity to crumbling roads, railways and ports. Myanmar will go nowhere without massive investment in the transportation/energy infrastructure.

In this race against time, Asia is ahead of the West. Thein Sein is just back from Singapore – the ultimate economic success story in East Asia. The Lion City will advise Myanmar not only in legal, banking and financial reform but also on trade, tourism and urban planning.

Japan, for its part, wants a bilateral investment treaty as soon as possible. And Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra also met with Suu Kyi in December. Thais pride themselves of being one of Myanmar’s top trading partners already, and want to market themselves as investment leaders and the key hub for regional trade involving Myanmar.

And then there are the two hippos in the golden pond – China and India.

Enter Pipelineistan

Myanmar is usually regarded in the West as the strategic crossroads between BRICS members India and China, and between them and the rest of south-east Asia. For the paranoid/conspiratorial set, it’s above all a land bridge for China to dominate the Indian Ocean.

As far as the Pentagon is concerned, Myanmar is absolutely essential in the strategy, recently announced by President Obama, of “pivoting” from the Middle East to East Asia.
For their part, Myanmar’s wily leaders are now starting to play up Singapore elder statesman’s Lee Kuan Yew’s maxim that the US “must be a counterbalance” to China in south-east Asia. It’s unlikely that Myanmar will be turned into a Chinese province.

The Pipelineistan scenario is fascinating. A port is already under construction in Kyaukpyu – in Arakan state, on the west coast of Myanmar, close to Bangladesh. This is the home of the immense Shwe gas fields. The port will connect via a dual oil and gas pipeline to Yunnan, the huge southwest China province.

For China this Pipelineistan node could not be more strategic, because it bypasses a crucially problematic choke point for Beijing; the Strait of Malacca. And the best route to the heart of China from the Indian Ocean is via Myanmar – and not via Pakistan or Bangladesh.

But as Zha Daojiong, a professor at the School of International Studies at Peking University has observed, there is no conspiracy involved. Actually Myanmar’s first choice for the delivery of oil and gas was India. Only after India dragged its feet, “and the international consortium of gas field developers (that did not include Chinese) was running out of patience, did Myanmar turn to China as an outlet for sales”.

There’s no way Myanmar won’t be central to China’s vast, complex energy strategy. The gas to Yunnan will certainly come from Myanmar. But the oil will have to come from the Middle East (mostly Saudi Arabia and Iran, top Chinese providers) and Africa (Angola and Sudan). For all these networks to function smoothly, China needs a stable, relatively prosperous Myanmar.

Then there’s the even bigger Dawei port, in the southern coast. This one is geared towards Thailand, the rest of Southeast Asia and southern China. For Beijing, this is also a key alternative to the Strait of Malacca; it will boast a Chinese-style Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and an industrial park, developed by an Italian-Thai partnership. Another SEZ established near Rangoon will also benefit China plus Japan, Korea and Thailand.

The Lady and the tramps

The military junta, which used to be known by the Orwellian acronym SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council) renamed the country Myanmar in 1989. Myanmar is the Bamar term for the country’s central valley. Needless to say, the country’s ethnic hill tribes – Karen, Shan, Kachin and others – could never agree with it, and fought it relentlessly. In practice, the now “reformed” junta has treated the absolutely majority of its citizens – even the Bamars – in an absolutely ghastly way.

For all the official talk of an ongoing “peace process”, the concept of civil society in Myanmar is still virtually non-existent. So it all depends now on the election on April 1, and how Suu Kyi and her party will be able to rally not only Myanma but also the hill tribes towards sharing a real social contract.

That’s the hope shared by all who have been deeply moved by the terrible beauty (Yeats comes to mind) of the country and the graciousness of its people (including this writer; and in this respect, my friend Peter Popham’s book, The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi, is highly recommended.)

Yet Myanmar is immensely more complex than a simple beauty (The Lady) and the beast (the junta) script. It will take the political activism of millions to end what’s been a de facto civil war raging for the past six decades; most of all a war of the Myanmar military against the overwhelming majority of their own people.
New York Times - C.I.A. Chief Signals Possible Visit to Myanmar
Published: February 7, 2012

BANGKOK — The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, David H. Petraeus, may visit Myanmar later this year, officials said on Tuesday, in what would be the latest signal of warming relations with the United States as Myanmar emerges from years of military rule and diplomatic isolation.

Mr. Petraeus discussed the possibility of a visit to Myanmar, also known as Burma, during a meeting in Bangkok on Monday with the Thai foreign minister, Surapong Tovichakchaikul. Mr. Surapong told Thai news media that Mr. Petraeus said he would “definitely” go to Myanmar.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton traveled to Myanmar in December in what was widely seen as an effort by the United States to check the rising power of China — for years Myanmar’s main benefactor — and to encourage political change in Myanmar.

An American official in Bangkok, who requested anonymity while discussing intelligence matters, confirmed on Tuesday that Mr. Petraeus had told Thai officials that “Secretary Clinton asked him to travel to Burma later this year.”

At least three separate delegations of American officials have visited Myanmar during the past two months, but a trip by Mr. Petraeus would allow for more detailed discussions and deeper cooperation between the two countries, said Robert Fitts, director of the American studies program at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. “They can set up channels that wouldn’t have been possible for Secretary Clinton,” he said.

The United States and Myanmar had relatively close military and intelligence cooperation until the late 1980s, when the Burmese military crushed a popular uprising, leading to two decades of degraded relations between Myanmar and Western countries.

Washington announced last month that it would upgrade diplomatic ties and appoint an ambassador to Myanmar after more than a decade without one.

“What the U.S. is trying to do,” Mr. Fitts said, “is send every signal of support to the forces pushing for liberalization in Burma.”
London committed to Myanmar
Published: Feb. 7, 2012 at 9:07 AM

LONDON, Feb. 7 (UPI) -- A meeting between Myanmar's ambassador to London and a British foreign minister shows the British government is serious about engagement, an official said.

British Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne met Ambassador U Kyaw Myo Htut for the first time in London.

"My meeting with Mr. U Kyaw Myo Htut is a mark of the U.K.'s willingness to engage with Myanmar's government in light of the reforms that they have recently undertaken," Browne said. "I encouraged the ambassador and his government to maintain the momentum for change."

Myanmar's government has embraced political reform since having the first general election in years in 2010. Thousands of political prisoners, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, have been released from custody.

Suu Kyi this week entered a race by by-elections for seats in Myanmar's Parliament. Her National League for Democracy Party won elections in the 1990s though the military junta refused to recognize the results.

"I reiterated that the U.K. government stood ready to respond to future positive actions, and that the world would be watching the upcoming by-elections, expecting them to be free and fair," Browne said.

U.N. human rights officials said Myanmar still has more work to do to meet international expectations.
The Daily Star - Formal shipping line to Burma to open soon
Refayet Ullah Mirdha
Publication Date : 07-02-2012

A direct shipping line between Bangladesh and Burma will begin formal operations soon as both the countries signed an agreement last month, said a senior official of the commerce ministry of Bangladesh yesterday.

The countries struck a deal on plying of coastal non-conventional vessels in the first meeting of the joint shipping committee between Bangladesh and Burma in Yangon on January 29-31, to expedite bilateral trade through a formal channel, the official said.

“Officials of both Bangladesh and Burma have agreed to start operations on the non-conventional shipping lines between the two nations. Now a circular needs to be issued to inform all stakeholders about the decision,” said the official requesting anonymity.

However, the official did not specify when the ships will start formal operations.

Generally, any ship with a less than 6,000 tonnes of cargo loading capacity is called a non-conventional vessel.

Currently, trade between Bangladesh and Burma takes place by non-conventional vessels through informal channels in the absence of a state-level protocol in this regard.

But both countries have maritime protocols under the guidelines of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to operate bigger ships between them.

In the meeting last month, representatives of both the countries have marked Chittagong, Mongla, Khulna, Narayanganj and Teknaf ports in Bangladesh and Yangon, Pathein, Sittwe and Maungtaw ports in Burma to provide different facilities.

The commerce ministry official also said another meeting between a government representative of Burma and Ghulam Hussain, commerce secretary of Bangladesh, would be held on February 12 in Dhaka to accelerate connectivity, mechanism in letter of credit payment, single country trade fair, border trade and other issues.

Moreover, Burma President Thein Sein is scheduled to visit Bangladesh at any time in the next two months to boost up trade between the two countries, the official said.
In the last fiscal year, two-way trade was recorded at $200 million, of which $180 million in favour of Burma, according to the commerce ministry.

The official said that Bangladesh can attract investment from Burma in areas of tourism, wood, cane, marine fishing, fertiliser, power and energy, construction and also in manufacturing sector.
ABC Radio Australia - Regional delegates attend Australian-organised Burma gathering
Updated February 7, 2012 13:56:29

Over the weekend an Australian-organised business and cultural conference was held in Burma for the first time.

The two-day gathering brought together delegations from across the region including Australia.

One of those to attend was Australian federal member of parliament Josh Frydenberg.

Presenter: Karina Carvalho
Speaker: Josh Frydenberg, Australian federal member of parliament
Listen: Windows Media(http://ping.fm/U7HC9)
ASIAONE - Myanmar mulls civil service pay hike to combat graft
AFP Tuesday, Feb 07, 2012

NAYPYIDAW - A top Myanmar official on Tuesday proposed a rise in civil service wages to combat widespread graft in a move likely to prove popular as the country heads towards landmark by-elections.

Lower House speaker Shwe Mann, a former junta number three who is considered one of the country's most influential reformers, said pay for government workers was not enough to cover "basic daily expenses".

He said the raise, which will be debated by parliament, should come into effect on April 1, the same day that the country holds by-elections that will be contested by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for the first time.

"We must give a high enough salary to school teachers, the police, soldiers and government staff," he told MPs, adding that otherwise staff would supplement shortfalls in their income in ways that would damage their "character".

Shwe Mann wants workers living standards brought into line with those enjoyed by government staff around half a century ago, before a wave of disastrous policies by the ruling junta that left the economy in tatters.

Myanmar's civil servants are paid low wages compared to other profession

No comments: