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Public response to government reforms and changes

Public response to government reforms and changes

The face of defiance


Leading human rights activist, Naw Ohn Hla, and nine others were arrested on 13 August for demonstrating without permission.

Last week she was sentenced to two years imprisonment with labour under the charge of sedition and disturbing public tranquility.

Naw Ohn Hla is an ethnic Karen from Mawbee township in Rangoon, and has spent her life campaigning for human rights and democracy.

The veteran protest leader is well known for leading weekly prayer demonstrations at Shwedagon pagoda. Since 2004 her Tuesday Prayer Group has met to pray for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

“Our group is going to support the political prisoners as much as we can and we have decided to send some supplies for their well being in prison,” said Naw Ohn Hla.

In 2009 she was arrested after visiting a pagoda and spent two years behind bars before being released in a presidential amnesty in 2011.

Since her release Naw Ohn Hla has continued to take part in street protests calling for the release of all the remaining political prisoners.

On 13 August  this year she joined demonstrators calling for the suspension of the Latpadaung mining project.

The copper mine is responsible for the confiscation of about 7,800 acres of farmland in total and forcefully relocated farmers from 66 villages.

After a tense standoff, police arrested Naw Ohn Hla and nine others.

Last Wedensday the activist was charged with protesting without permission under the peaceful procession and peaceful assembly law, and a trial is pending.

However, a more serious charge of sedition was brought against Naw Ohn Hla and last Thursday she was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment.

Naw Ohn Hla’s sentence suggests that although the government is willing to offer some new freedoms, it still retains absolute power and is a stark reminder that those new freedoms can be snatched away at any time.

Shwe Mann reiterates his support for federalism

Shwe Mann addresses a public forum in Taunggyi on September 2, 2013. (DVB)

Speaking at a public meeting on Monday in the Shan state capital Taunggyi, parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann stressed his support for federalism in Burma and urged the public to work alongside the government and the parliament to reach that objective.

Shwe Mann, the former head of the Union Solidarity and Development Party, voiced his support for federalism in June when addressing the ruling party, and was reported in 2012 telling parliamentarians that a federal union in Burma was “inevitable”.

“U Shwe Mann said that federalism must be granted, but that it should be a style of federalism that conforms to our country,” said Sai Aik Pao, the chairman of the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), who attended the Taunggyi meeting. “He [Shwe Mann] pointed out that a different style of federalism is practiced in the United States from that of Germany or Switzerland, and that factors such as the country’s population and demographics must be considered.”

The SNDP chairman told DVB that the Union Assembly speaker noted to the Shan-based audience that achieving federalism is important for building peace in the country, and that it requires the public’s support as well as the government’s efforts.

Shwe Mann reportedly praised the pace of reform in Burma, saying that the transition was smoother than in many countries.

Sai Aik Pao said that members of the audience raised concerns about land confiscations, transportation woes, ID cards, education, and regional irrigation projects.

Former Lt-Gen Shwe Mann responded to all questions, except on matters of land confiscations which were handled by Land Grab Investigation Commission chairman Sai Htun Sein.

Shwe Mann continued his Shan state tour on Tuesday, 3 September, when he was scheduled to hold a public meeting in Kengtung.

Hantharwaddy U Win Tin Sculpture and Paintings Make in Rangoon to Honor

Hantharwaddy U Win Tin Sculpture and Paintings Make in Rangoon to Honor

Ta’ang army suspends talks with govt as clashes continue

The Ta'ang National Liberation Army on parade. (TNLA Facebook)
The Ta'ang National Liberation Army on parade. (TNLA Facebook) 


The Ta’ang (Palaung) National Liberation Army (TNLA) said it will be unable to proceed with peace talks with the Burmese government due to continued fighting between the ethnic armed group and the Burmese army.

A delegation from the northern Shan state based TNLA, led by Lt-Col Tar Bone Kyaw, last met with the government’s Union Peace-making Work Committee headed by President’s Office Minister Aung Min on 31 July in Lashio, and had agreed to a second round of negotiations around 10 August in Namhsan, which is located in the Palaung Self-Administered Zone. However, the Palaung army said that clashes between the two sides have continued unabated in the interim.

Captain Mai Aung Ko, spokesperson for the TNLA, said the continuation of hostilities could hamper the “mutual trust-building process”.

Speaking to DVB earlier this week, Mai Aung Ko said, “Continuing clashes with the Burma Army is hindering us from following up with the talks. This is very damaging to the peace process.”

He said there were two clashes in Kyaukme district’s Mongngaw township on 7 and 12 August and one on 24 August in Muse district, adding that the TNLA was conducting anti-narcotic education field programmes in those areas at the time and was forced to exchange fire with the government forces when confronted.

The Palaung spokesman said that no government negotiator has been in contact with the TNLA regarding the clashes nor had his side approached the peace-making group.

The TNLA, armed wing of the Palaung State Liberation Front, was formed in 2005 and is active in northern Shan state’s Mongtong, Kutkai, Namhkam and Namhsan townships.

Myanmar Migrant Trap

Migrant worker from Myanmar (Photo: Atti-la / Flickr)
Written by James Redmond (Mizzima )

Thailand’S raised minimum wage is causing Thai fishing boat captains heartache. Myanmar migrants who man the boats are trying when they can to escape to what they think might be better and safer opportunities in Thai factories.

Thai PM Yingluck Shinawatra has full-filled an election pledge and instituted a minimum daily wage of 300 baht in the country. While this may benefit many lowly-paid workers, it has also led to the shedding of jobs by companies and workers being forced to work harder and longer for their pay.

Thailand’s fishing fleet is facing a manpower crisis, partly because of the lure of higher pay elsewhere but also because of the industry’s bad reputation.

Contrary to the image of Thailand being a “Land of Smiles,” the reality of work for Myanmar migrants on the boats is one of bad treatment, even murder.

As one former Myanmar migrant fisherman put it, “Burmese fishermen dies like dogs and pigs on Thai fishing boats.”

A recent UN study reported that 59 percent of surveyed migrants who had been trafficked onto Thai fishing boats had witnessed a fellow worker being killed by the boat’s captain or senior crew members.

Most of the migrants are tricked into working on the boats after applying for what they had hoped would be lucrative work in factories or in the logging industry.

It’s tough being a sailor at the best of times, but for Myanmar migrants, they are lucky if they survive the experience.
Deadly occupation

Myanmar migrant Wan Yan counts himself lucky to be alive. At the age of 16, he fled poverty in Myanmar in search of work and was lured to join the crew on a Thai fishing boat with promises of good pay. It was two years before he could place his feet back on dry land.

Wan Yan’s story is one of thousands that typically remain untold. The Thai fishing fleets rely almost exclusively on Myanmar and Cambodian migrants, typically working illegally. It is an industry cloaked in murky dealings, with horror stories of long hours, bad conditions and abuse, and one that is proving hard to police.

Jim Wickens is a film maker with the UK-based Ecologist Film Unitwho penetrated the hidden world of migrant workers at sea. In his documentary, “Grinding Nemo: What’s the real cost of your prawn curry?” Wickens surreptitiously got access to the boats and migrants – mostly from Myanmar - struggling to work.

Working undercover for the Ecologist, he managed to board several trawlers fishing offshore. According to the film and story by Wickens, they were told of captains force-feeding amphetamines to half-starved crew members, the routine killing of crew who complain, and Myanmar migrants leaping from the backs of vessels in suicidal bids to escape the torment of life at sea.

One man Wickens spoke to talked of a killing he witnessed: “The captain took his gun and shot him until he fell off the boat. He fell in the gap between the two boats. He didn’t die right away, he tried to come up, but the captain just gave him another shot until he sank away... I’ve seen this happen twice,” he said.

Wickens told Mizzima Business Weeklythat there was no camaraderie that you might find on a small boat. This was essentially apartheid at sea, a Thai captain and his crew lording it over the fishermen. Treatment of the deck hands is poor. And it was hard to get a clear picture of how many fishermen were beaten, or worse, killed, he said.

Wan Yan’s case reflects the experience of many. “Every time I saw the mother ship come, I would cry because I wanted to go home,” he told the Ecologist, referring to the large supply boat. “But I couldn’t because they wouldn’t let me.”

Taken to fish hundreds of miles out at sea in the Indian Ocean, he was continually trafficked between vessels, his only contact with the outside world was the supply boat that would bring food and fuel and carry the fish back to Thai ports.

Even those allowed to return to shore may find themselves locked up, waiting until the boat sets sail again.

Wickens and his film team met and interviewed a number of Myanmar migrants on the boats, as well as some who had escaped and were only willing to talk under cover of anonymity.

Not all migrants are treated badly but there are many stories of abuse.

There have been alarming cases where complaints over pay or working conditions have been met with collusive responses that involved three types of people: fishing company or ship owners, local gangsters as enforcers, and police or immigration officials. The results for some Myanmar migrants have been beatings, occasional deaths, and deportations. The police typically claim they are not involved and that any problems in the past have been sorted out and the bad apples dismissed from the force.

Surveys, interviews and anecdotal evidence suggests Wan Yan’s case was fairly typical. As he said, he was seasick all the time but had to continue to work as the captain carried a gun and it was impossible to say no to him. It was only because the boat began to leak that the boat returned to port.
Vulnerable to abuse

A crucial part of the problem is the vulnerability of migrants minus papers, like Wan Yan. In total, there are estimated to be around 2 million Myanmar migrants, in addition to other nationalities, working illegally or on temporary work papers. Many are vulnerable and have no choice but to take what is on offer as far as work and pay and keep quiet. All it takes is a phone call and they can be taken away for deportation with others being hired in their place.

Fishing boat captains and their owners know that there is lack of efficient policing at sea. Plus fishing is getting tougher as stocks are depleted and boats and their crews have to go on longer voyages. As the Ecologist points out, many boats seek to catch whatever they can, with nets that in effect vacuum up the oceans with young fish caught in the catch, a practice that is illegal. As the report points out, few people dining in the United States or Europe realize that the prawn curry they may be eating comes at a substantial cost, both in terms of the treatment of labour used and in the young fish that are ground up to make feed for onshore prawn farms.

Those most likely to end up on the Thai boats are Myanmar and Cambodian migrants desperate for a job and often tricked into joining up, expecting good wages, some not expecting they will be going to sea.

Phil Robertson, an expert maritime labour issues and the author of a report for the International Migration Organization, entitled, “Trafficking of Fishermen in Thailand,” says Myanmar migrants are in demand because Thais tend to steer clear of working as fishermen in the wake of the 1989 Typhoon Gay tragedy that saw the sinking of 200 fishing boats, 458 deaths and over 600 missing, presumed dead. Compounding the problem is scarcity of fish and increased competition. Plus the message has got out to the many local Thai migrants, who often come from the country’s relatively poor Northeast – stay clear of the fishing boats.

“One of the things that has propelled trafficking of Myanmar fishermen on Thai fishing boats is that the Thai boats are going much further than they did before,” Robertson told Mizzima Business Weekly. “Given the abusive labor conditions and the propensity of fishing captains to cheat workers out of wages, no one wants to voluntarily sign up for a tour that will take four to five years – which is the amount of time some of the boats take to go to and remain in Indonesian waters, or even further, to Somalia, or off the coast of Yemen.  So, increasing competition for ocean fish stock also causes greater demand for trafficked men and boys from Myanmar to serve on fishing boats.”

Robertson’s investigations reveal the harrowing conditions that Myanmar and Cambodian migrants face on the boats, similar to those faced by Wan Yan.

“The conditions are brutal and deadly. Fisherman are forced to work day in and day out, often 20 or more hours per day, and face severe beatings if they falter, fall asleep, or are seen to not be working as hard as the captain and first mate think they should.  In Indonesia seas, boats can be out at sea and working consistently for 45 days in a row before coming back to port.  In other places, I was told about ‘sea prison’ – where trafficked fishermen are transferred from a boat returning to port to another boat staying at sea, and this happens time and time again so that these fishermen may not see land, or have a break from their brutal treatment, for years.”
Dealing with the problem

The Thai authorities have said they are trying to deal with the problems besetting the fishing industry. But it is hard to see any positive progress. The International Migrant Organization report makes recommendations for actions to solve the problem of trafficking on Thai fishing boats including developing a legal and regulatory framework, prevention measures, and ways to prosecute in the case of bad treatment.

According to Robertson, the Thai government is not seriously considering any of these except the proposal for hiring reform, through a hiring hall arrangement, – “but unfortunately, I predict that will be a situation similar to the fox guarding the chickens, since the Thai government appears to be ceding day to day operational control over the proposed centers to the National Fishing Association of Thailand, an employers’ group which has a checkered record in dealing with the issue of human trafficking.

For years, they have denied that it was happening, and now they are suddenly part of the solution – looks like the prescription for a whitewash of the situation to me, without likely really improvements occurring.”

Andy Hall is an expert on migrant issues. He says there has been little effective antitrafficking and anti-exploitation programs enacted by the Thai authorities to genuinely address and improve the appalling situation of migrant workers, particularly from Myanmar and Cambodia, but also from Thailand itself and other countries, being blatantly and systematically abused on Thai fishing boats in Thai waters and outside of Thai waters.

He says there has been a positive development in the drafting and enactment of a fishing regulation to bring these vulnerable workers more clearly within Thailand’s labor protection laws (Labour Protection Act 1998), but enacting more legislation is one necessary step, as without enforcement and addressing wider systematic abuse factors like poor recruitment practices, broker exploitation and law officials’ abuses of power, the legal changes will be
meaningless in practice.

There has been little sign so far that the Thai Government is addressing this problem as seriously and urgently as they should be, says Hall, given the amount of global export from Thailand of seafood products but also in view the global campaigns on trafficking and migrant abuse. There has not been enough pressure placed on Thailand by international consumers and governments who receive Thai fish also, he points out.

He says it is very difficult to address such challenges as the industry is essentially in practice not regulated, boats are not registered, workers are not registered, and these boats often travel to far away waters.

In addition, there continues to be no clear line of responsibility for related and overlapping authorities to take action on this issue. A serious overhaul of the fishing sector is needed, as is the recruitment processes used to find the much needed workers.
Migrants steering clear?

Although migrants from Myanmar like Wan Yan still appear to be seeking work on Thai fishing boats, the word may be getting out that it is far from a path to riches. The Thai fishing industry is struggling in terms of manpower, and with opportunities in Myanmar improving, though at slow speed, the longterm prognosis for people to man Thai boats is likely to grow bleaker. Hence action is needed.

Migrant workers from Bangladesh are said to be being brought in to ease the problem of labor shortages in the Thai fishing industry, to the tune of tens of thousands of workers. Whether or not the employment of Bangladeshi workers on fishing boats will receive due oversight remains to be seen. Judging by the record so far, the prospects do not look good.

As Wan Yan said, he and his fellow fishermen did not dare claim their salaries when their boat eventually did arrive in port. Those who complain, it is said, are often the ones who end up dead in the sea.

Home deliveries in rural Burma


Burma’s Health Ministry has admitted that the country needs significantly more midwives.

Senior health officials recently said that a mere 10,000 midwives are employed to cover 60,000 villages.

In Rangoon’s Bago division there are 3,000 people living in San San Lwin’s village and the midwife has to travel to all the other villages in the area.

“I am not very well, and one nurse should be nearby. I need a professional midwife so that my baby can be born properly,” said San San Lwin, a schoolteacher with a daughter aged seven.

Local resident Nyunt Ye doesn’t have formal midwife training but often assists births around the village. Without a proper midwife to provide care, a mother can suffer complications during delivery.

“The nurse was delayed. The mother couldn’t bear it any longer and asked me to help her deliver the baby. I helped give birth to her daughter. Unfortunately the baby was already dead,” Nyunt Ye said.

For most mothers, giving birth in a hospital is not an option as they are too expensive.

Thandar Oo had to borrow US $200 when she gave birth to her daughter. After selling many of her possessions she has still only paid back US $30.

“Even though I sold all of my things, I still had to borrow US $70. Now I have paid back only US $30,” she said.

The government spends just 4 percent of its budget on the health sector and healthcare activist Dr Moe Myint says this needs to increase.

Dr Moe Myint runs a training programme in collaboration with the health ministry, which aims to increase the number of midwives across the country. The programme aims to provide one midwife per 4,000 expectant mothers, and he says the number of auxiliary midwives needs to double.

“There are only 20,000 stand-by midwives now. Some 40,000 are needed to complete the programme,” Dr Moe Myint said.

Until the government takes serious action to address the state of the healthcare sector, expectant mothers will continue to be put at risk from complications during birth.

Death Toll in Xinjiang Police Shootout Climbs As Exile Group Blasts Raid

Chinese armed police patrol the streets of the Muslim Uyghur quarter in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi, June 29, 2013. AFP
Authorities in China's Xinjiang region said Tuesday that they had shot dead 22 Uyghurs accused of terrorism last week, revising higher an initial death toll in one of the biggest crackdowns on the ethnic minority Muslim group.

They said they have also arrested four Uyghurs in a raid on a house where the 22 were gunned down on Aug. 20 at the edge of a desert area in the Yilkiqi township in Kargilik (in Chinese, Yecheng) county in Xinjiang's southwestern Kashgar prefecture.

The death toll was revised upward after police and other sources had said at the weekend that based on initial reports, 15 Uyghurs and one Han Chinese policeman were killed in the "anti-terror" operation.

The Yilkiqi shooting follows a spate of violence across Xinjiang in recent months that has led to massive arrests, with hundreds of Uyghurs taken into custody for interrogations by the authorities in the troubled northwestern region of China.

"Two days after the incident, the township government informed us at a meeting that 22 people had died and four others were arrested," Mahmut Han, the chief of Islamic Association of Yilkiqi Township, told RFA's Uyghur Service.

Helicopter hunt

According to officials, he said, the shootout was ordered after police, backed by a helicopter, closely monitored "suspicious activity" for about a week around the house where the Uyghurs had been living.

"The township's [ruling Chinese Communist] Party secretary criticized us [the township's officials] for not being alert in detecting such activities," Mahmut Han said.

The deputy chief of Yilkiqi township, Alim Hamid, said that he was at the scene of the shootout, following which "22 bodies in black bags were carried out by police to an unknown destination."

"Police informed us that those who were killed were terrorists," he told RFA. "But they didn't specify what wrong they did."

"Now we have strengthened security in the township in line with orders from the government and we are on the lookout for people from out of town," Alim Hamid said. "They will be identified and their particulars given to the police."

Chinese authorities usually blame outbreaks of violence in Xinjiang on "terrorists" among the region's ethnic minority Muslim Uyghurs.

But rights groups and experts say Beijing exaggerates the terrorism threat to take the heat off domestic policies that cause unrest or to justify the authorities' use of force against Uyghurs.

Mahmut Han said four of the dead were from Yilkiqi while the rest were believed to be from a neighboring township but their identities had not been revealed.

Immediate burial
A map of Xinjiang showing Kashgar's Kargilik (Yecheng) county.

Sources said the 22 were believed to have been buried immediately without their next of kins being informed.

"I heard that the bodies were taken and buried together in a hill top in a neighboring township," a Yilkiqi resident told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity.

He cited contacts as telling him that the police killed the 22 while they were performing their prayers. Six knives and axes were recovered from the scene, police had said earlier.

"When they gathered for prayers, police surrounded them and fired at them," the resident said.

He said that he used to pass by the house at which the 22 were gunned down while on his way to work daily.

He believed the house owner may have been among those shot dead and the others had been working for him at a nearby farm.

"They work in the day and pray at night at the house," the resident said.


The Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC), a Uyghur exile group, condemned the Yilkiqi killings, saying "the authorities were intent on killing those present rather than allowing them to stand before a court to defend themselves against these allegations on which little has been disclosed."

WUC President Rebiya Kadeer said the Chinese authorities "continue to use the same banal rhetoric for such incidents which fails to adequately address the longstanding issues underlying the bubbling tensions in East Turkestan [Xinjiang]."

She said the Yilkiqi incident "only serves to exacerbate increasing distrust in the authorities due to the pervasive impunity of their actions.”

Rebiya Kadeer called on the international community to "keep a watchful eye upon developments in East Turkestan, and ensure that they do not fall foul to the erroneous and leaky narrative of the Chinese authorities.”

The latest violence came nearly two weeks after a Uyghur religious leader was stabbed to death after returning home from leading evening prayers at a mosque in Turpan city in Xinjiang's Turpan prefecture.

The imam was targeted by members of his own community for branding Uyghurs as "terrorists" and backing a government crackdown against them, residents and officials said.

In early August, police opened fire on a crowd of Uyghurs protesting prayer restrictions in Akyol town in Aksu prefecture ahead of the festival marking the end of Islam's holy month of Ramadan, killing at least three and injuring about 50 others.

In June, up to 46 people were killed in Lukchun township of Pichan county in Turpan prefecture after police opened fire on "knife-wielding mobs" who had attacked police stations and other sites in the county, in the bloodiest violence since the July 5, 2009 unrest in Xinjiang's regional capital Urumqi that triggered a massive crackdown.

Also in June, in Hotan prefecture's Hanerik township, police fired on hundreds of Uyghurs protesting the arrest of a young religious leader and closure of a mosque, officials said, acknowledging that up to 15 people may have been killed and 50 others injured.

Uyghurs in Xinjiang say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness, blaming their hardships partly on a massive influx of Han Chinese into the region.

Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur Service. Translated by Dolkun Kamberi. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai    

Myanmar Activists Held for Marching Against Protest Law

Activists march in protest against Section 18 of the Law on Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession in Yangon, Aug. 27, 2013. RFA
Six Myanmar activists who marched in Yangon on Tuesday to protest a controversial law governing peaceful assembly have been detained and face charges under the same legislation they were demonstrating against.  

The protest marchers were detained Tuesday afternoon for violating the Law on Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession, which requires individuals to obtain a permit to demonstrate and allows the authorities to jail violators.

The six were among 20 protesters calling for the removal of Section 18 of the law, which carries a maximum sentence of up to one year’s imprisonment and a 30,000 kyat (U.S. $35) fine for violating the law.

The six activists, who police said were arrested for marching without a permit, can be charged and prosecuted separately under Section 18 in each of the seven townships they passed through on their march through Yangon.

Two other protesters were charged under the same law on Tuesday for leading a march by hundreds last month to commemorate the anniversary of a brutal crackdown on the 1988 student-led prodemocracy protest movement.

Activists and rights groups say the law, passed in 2011 as Myanmar began to emerge from decades under military rule, gives peaceful protesters heavy penalties and is used to silence activism instead of protecting the right to demonstrate.

'Written to charge political activists'

The group of activists from civil society groups Generation Wave, Generation Youth, Democracy Force, and the Tawwin Wood Products Factory Workers’ Union who marched through Yangon on Tuesday called for the release of all those held under the law and for an end to severe punishments for peaceful demonstrators.

“We are protesting to abolish Section 18 because it was written just to charge political activists and it’s not in the people’s interest,” activist Tin Htut Paing told RFA’s Myanmar Service during the march before police took him into custody.

“We are working for the people’s interest. That’s why we want to abolish this article that blocks the people’s interest,” he said.

Tin Htut Paing was arrested alongside Hlaing Min Oo, Sithu, Kyaw Thu, Nilar Han, Kyaw Nay Lin by police from Kyauktada Police Station around 4:00 p.m. after the group marched from Sanchaung township to City Hall, fellow protester Kyaw Nay Win of Generation Youth told RFA.

Ahlone township police officer Tun Shwe told RFA the activists were to be charged for protesting without permission.

Activists said police in each of the townships—Ahlone, Sanchaung, Kyauktada, Kyeemyindaing, Lanmadaw, Latha, and Pabedan—were taking action against the six.

8888 anniversary marchers

Meanwhile in Kyauktada township, two activists who led an Aug. 8 march honoring those who died in the “8888 Uprising” were charged for demonstrating without permission.

The two, Phyu Phyu Win of the Former Political Prisoners' Force and workers’ rights activist Win Cho, will be tried on Sept. 6.

Students carrying wreaths marked with the number eight march in Yangon on Aug. 8, 2013 to mark the anniversary of the 1988 crackdown. Photo credit: AFP. 
Some 200 people took part in the march, which was part of Myanmar’s biggest public commemorations in years for the Aug. 8, 1988 crackdown that had long been a taboo topic.

“The authorities said we were charged because we didn’t apply for permission for our peaceful march,” Phyu Phyu Win told RFA.

“We had passed through the six townships of Sanchaung, Dagon, Lanmadaw, Latha, Panbedan, Kyauktada. We have already been questioned by officials from the other five townships and we have been charged in Kyaukdata township,” she said.

At one point during the march police had blocked the demonstrators because they did not have a permit, but the demonstrators were eventually allowed to continue on their way to City Hall.

The two were taken into custody that day and released after signing a guarantee to appear in court if summoned.

Controversial law

International advocacy groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have urged Myanmar to amend the Law on Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession, including by eliminating prison terms for permit violations.

Among those who have faced detention and fines under the law are land protesters and activists who demonstrated against the controversial Letpadaung copper mine in northern Myanmar’s Sagaing region.

Authorities have used the law “to prosecute rather than protect” those exercising their basic rights, Human Rights Watch said in a statement earlier this year.

A proposal to abolish Section 18 of the law was submitted to the lower house of Myanmar’s parliament in June, according to Eleven Media group.

Legal experts argue that the law disregards citizens' constitutional rights of freedom of procession and assembly, it said.

Reported by Khaw Thu and Yadanar Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

Suu Kyi, Dalai Lama to speak at Czech human rights forum

Aung San Suu Kyi is due to speak in September at a human rights forum in the Czech republic alongside the Dalai Lama.
By AFP and DVB

Democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama will attend a human rights forum in Prague next month, its spokesman said.

Burma’s opposition leader and the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, both Nobel peace laureates, will speak during the forum, spokesman Filip Sebek told AFP.

He said no official talks were scheduled between the pair, but did not discount the possibility that they would meet in private – a meeting likely to anger China.

Beijing, a powerful ally of Burma and major investor in the resource-rich nation, has branded the Dalai Lama an anti-China “separatist”.

Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest until she was freed after controversial elections in 2010, is now an MP as part of sweeping reforms under a new quasi-civilian regime that came to power in 2011.

She will be visiting the Czech Republic for the first time, after embarking on a landmark European tour last year.

The annual forum was launched by the late Czech Velvet Revolution icon Vaclav Havel and American Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel in 1997.

This year’s theme is “societies in transition”, with US folk singer and activist Joan Baez and South Africa’s last white president Frederik Willem de Klerk also in attendance.

“The aim is to better understand what is needed during the transition from an authoritarian regime to a democracy but also to better understand the things that cause these processes to grind to a halt or lose their way,” executive director Jakub Klepal said in a statement.

Myanmar Considering Property Taxes To Stabilize Skyrocketing Real Estate Market, Despite Experts Suggestion Not To Meddle

Boats seen on a jetty in Dala township other side of Yangon on February 8, 2011. The proposed Yangon-Dala bridge would make the township, which is currently only reachable by ferry, more accessible. REUTERS/ Soe Zeya Tun
By Sophie Song
International Business Times

Fearful its skyrocketing real estate prices could prevent foreign firms from entering and investing in Myanmar, the government is considering new property taxes to stabilize the market, deter land speculation and increase state income, despite experts urging the government not to meddle.

Land prices in Myanmar’s commercial center Yangon, have risen to higher than prices in Manhanttan – the price of one square foot of real estate along Yangon’s main road ranges from $1,000 to $1,500. Knowing it will be profitable, anyone with the funds to do so is investing in real estate.

“Whenever people make money — if they have extra money in hand — instead of putting money in a bank they just buy land,” said Moe Zaw, the founder of Myanmar Deals Leasing, a real estate leasing agency in Yangon that serves corporate and diplomatic clients. “Everyone knows you’re not going to lose money buying land.”

Even in regions outside of Yangon, prices have hiked. Following announcement of a bridge crossing the Yangon-Dala River, which was to be built with investment from South Korea, investors rushed to buy up land on both banks of the river, despite the already high prices in Yangon, as well as the fact that Dala is reachable only by ferry currently, according to Mizzima, a Myanmar news outlet.

The government, worried that such rapid real estate booms in both regions could make it difficult for foreign investors to do business in the country, have suspended the bridge building project until the end of the current government’s administration, said U Soe Thein, the Minister of the President’s Office, at a press conference in Nay Pyi Taw on Friday.

Myanmar’s next election is slated for 2015, according to the Bangkok Post, and polls are already being prepared in anticipation.

In addition, government officials are looking at ways to collect taxes based on square footage, according to Maung Maung Thein, the Deputy Minister of Finance, also at an event on Friday, in order to rein in land prices, and also generate revenue for the state, according to the Myanmar Times.

“We have [internally] proposed tax prices for land in the Yangon region, and are looking at rates for the entire country. We will make an announcement soon,” Maung Thein said.

Last year, the government axed a five-year property tax holiday, when the real estate market was already on the rise, which brought into effect a 30 percent transaction tax and a 7 percent stamp tax, both to be paid by the buyer. The real estate industry has been pressuring the government to slash that rate, but an announcement last week said the 37 percent tax rate will not be lowered, the Myanmar Times reported.

Economists, while acknowledging current prices are too high to be sustainable, have previously urged the government not to meddle, but allow the market to fluctuate according to demand.

“The rising cost of land is indeed a hindrance to the economic development of the city and the country at large. But it is not due to sellers’ greed -- it is simply the trend of demand-pull market economics,” said Professor Aung Tun Thet, a member of the State Socio-Economic Development Advisory Council and advisor to the United Nations Development Program. “We must accept this. I worry that the government will try to meddle with the market. Rather than controlling the market, infrastructure development should be undertaken and wasteland should be provided to real and potential investors.”

Parliament approves plan to accept US$260 million loan from World Bank

Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda (L) shakes hands with Burma's President Thein Sein during a joint news conference following their bilateral meeting at the Japan-Mekong summit in Tokyo on 21 April 2012. Japan has since forgiven Burma's debt and is now preparing fresh loans to kick-start development projects in the country.(Reuters)

Burma’s Union Parliament has approved a plan, recommended by President Thein Sein, to agree a US$261.5 million loan from the World Bank to support various development projects.

The 40-year loan – at a fixed 0.75 percent interest rate – would be used to develop the communications sector and to improve schools, as well as pay for the construction of a compressed natural gas and biogas power plant in Mon state’s Thaton township.

In January, the World Bank announced that it would clear Burma’s outstanding debt of some $900 million, allowing the country to reapply for grants and loans from international institutions.

Meanwhile, The Asian Development Bank (ADB) announced on Monday that it will administer a Japanese loan of $1.2 million to help Burma improve statistics collection.

The technical assistance grant from the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction aims “to strengthen institutional, strategic, and technical capacity for collecting better statistics to chart the country’s development and progress” the bank said in a statement.

“Timely, relevant, and accurate data is essential to understanding where the country [Burma] is today, and for future evidence-based decision making both within and outside government,” said Kaushal Joshi, the senior statistician with the Economics and Research Department at ADB. “Statistics help policymakers understand the economic, social, and environmental conditions, make decisions on economic growth, and design efforts to promote poverty reduction.”

NLD plans nationwide youth conference

The NLD hopes to inspire a new generation of members.

Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), said it plans to convene a nationwide youth conference to empower a younger generation of political activists to prepare for leadership positions in the future.

Earlier this month, the NLD formed a central committee to facilitate the founding of youth committees across the country. Chairman Maung Maung Oo said they will also form committees at district and township levels.

“Over the next three months, we will be embarking on a recruitment drive to attract members between the ages of 16 and 30,” he said. “Once this is accomplished, we will set about planning the youth conference, hopefully for December or January.”

He said that the party hoped that this youth drive would stand it in good stead to win the general election in 2015.

The NLD has had a youth wing since its formation in 1988. However, many of its members have criticised the central committee over the years for its intransigence and reluctance to change the old guard—many of the party’s leaders, including Tin Oo and Win Tin, are octogenarians.

Japan's ANA to buy 49% in Myanmar's Asian Wings Airways: Source

All Nippon Airways' (ANA) aeroplanes at Haneda airport in Tokyo on Aug 8, 2013. Japan's ANA Holdings Inc will buy a 49 per cent stake in Myanmar carrier Asian Wings Airways as part of a strategy to expand overseas by investing in airline related businesses, an industry source familiar with the agreement said. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS
by Straits Times

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japan's ANA Holdings Inc will buy a 49 percent stake in Myanmar carrier Asian Wings Airways as part of a strategy to expand overseas by investing in airline related businesses, an industry source familiar with the agreement said.

ANA, will pay 3 billion yen (S$38.81 million) for the stake, the Nikkei business daily reported earlier. The two carriers may announce the deal later on Tuesday, the source said on condition he was not identified.

Yangon-based Asian Wings, which began flying in 2011, operates three turboprop ATR 72 regional aircraft and one Airbus A321 on domestic flights in Myanmar. The airline plans to begin international service in October with a flight between Yangon and Chiang Mai, Thailand, the Nikkei said.

A spokesman for the Japanese carrier declined to comment on the reports, saying it had not announced the acquisition. ANA resumed flights between Tokyo and Yangon last October after a 12-year hiatus.

Police Files Against Two Burmese Activists for Violation of Article 18

Police Files Against Two Burmese Activists for Violation of Article 18

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