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DAILY NEWS – 16 April 2014

News – General& International

Suu Kyi leaves Europe armed with international support for constitutional change. - DVB - 16 April 2014

Aung San Suu Kyi warns of Myanmar transition dangers on Paris visit - RFI - 16 April 2014

EU extends arms embargo on Myanmar - KUNA -14 April 2014

Two planes crash on runway at Rangoon airport - DVB -15 April 2014

News – Ethnic nationalities/Border conflict/ Ethnic Armies

KIA Ambush Burmese Army Convoys as More Troops Deployed - KNL - 15 April 2014

Burma Army Soldiers Accused Of Armed Robbery - Karen News - 15 April 2014

News – Business / Economy / Industry

Mekong economic corridor offers trade openings - Bangkok Post - 16 April 2014

NEXI to insure 95% of Myanmar venture - Jiji/the Japan News - 16 April 2014

Analysis / Opinion

NGOs Face Danger in Aid to Myanmar’s Rohingya - IRIN/Asia Sentinel - 15 April 2014

Census divisions add to Myanmar's burden - By Bi Shihong - Global Times - 15 April 2014

Opinion: An unholy alliance of Buddhist terrorists - ByTariq A. Al-Maeena - Saudi Gazette - 15 April 2014

Dams may spell disaster for Myanmar's rivers – By Louise Osborne - Deutsche Welle - 15 April 2014

Will development overshadow Myanmar’s rich cultural history? - By Jeffrey Brown - PBS News Hour - 15 April 2014


News – General& International

Suu Kyi leaves Europe armed with international support for constitutional change.
DVB - 16 April 2014

By Angus Watson

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is due to depart France for home on Wednesday, having canvassed international support for her agenda of constitutional change in Burma. The weeklong trip included Germany and France, and was her third visit to Europe since 2012.

Meeting the French press on Monday, Suu Kyi reminded international onlookers that “Burma is not yet a democracy”. Standing alongside French President François Hollande, Suu Kyi called on France and the EU to help Burma to “move forward in a process that will ensure democratic values and democratic rights.”

That process, Suu Kyi affirmed, involves national reconciliation and a curtailing of military influence in politics, both to be achieved via constitutional reform.

In that quest she found an ally in President Hollande, as she did in Chancellor Angela Merkel whom Suu Kyi met on the German leg of her tour.

“We are aware of the obstacles and difficulties which exist,” Hollande explained as he reiterated France’s support for Suu Kyi as the opposition leader continues her agenda of change.

Merkel too offered her support for ongoing democratic reform in Burma. Speaking to media before a closed-doors meeting in Berlin last Thursday, Merkel said the pair would be discussing ”how we on the German side can help to be actively supportive of these developments”.

Friday saw Suu Kyi presented with the Willy Brandt Prize for leadership in democracy and human rights. The honour follows Suu Kyi’s 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, which she collected in 2012 on her first trip to Europe after being freed from house arrest the year before. Suu Kyi was also the 1990 recipient of the EU’s Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought, which she collected on a 2013 tour.

“The special place of the military is written into our Constitution,” Suu Kyi explained to an audience gathered in Berlin to witness her acceptance of the Willy Brandt Prize.

“It is not a democratic [Constitution]” Suu Kyi told the crowd, “And the challenge we face today is to change the Constitution to make sure that our country will truly enjoy the rights and values of democracy.”

The Burmese Constitution, adopted in 2008, ensures that the military provides its own mandate, as opposed to being the subject of a civilian portfolio. Article 232 states that, “the Commander-in-Chief will appoint the Ministers for Defence, Home Affairs and Border Affairs.” Further to this, the military is assured the balance of power in both houses of parliament, as the Constitution provides for 25 percent of seats in each house to be appointed to the armed forces.

This stands as a personal barrier to Suu Kyi in her stated ambition to be Burma’s next president. Article 59(f) bars Suu Kyi from the presidency, as her late husband, Michael Aris, was a British citizen. 75 percent of parliament must approve a change to that law, as is dictated by the 2008 Constitution. Therefore a motion to abolish the article would almost certainly require military acquiescence.

Support from France and Germany may prove to be valuable munitions is Suu Kyi’s own armoury, as she takes on military hardliners in her battle for reform. Earlier this month, Burma’s Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing used the Armed Forces Day parade as an opportunity to underline the inviolable foundation that the 2008 Constitution provides for the future of a peaceful Burma.

Suu Kyi underscored the magnitude of her task in Germany on Friday. “We are at a most sensitive, most dangerous time in the path of our evolution, Suu Kyi told her Berlin audience. “What we are trying to do in Burma is to … establish the foundation of a truly democratic culture, it is not easy, after half a century of dictatorship to establish such a foundation.”


Aung San Suu Kyi warns of Myanmar transition dangers on Paris visit
RFI - 16 April 2014

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi called for international support as her country faces a "difficult period of transition" on a visit to Paris on Tuesday.

After talks with French President François Hollande, the Nobel Peace Prize winner described the atmosphere in Myanmar as tense.

As a long period of military rule draws to a close, the country is looking forward to reforming its constitution and to holding free elections in November 2015.

Myanmar is entering the most sensitive and difficult part of the democratic reform that her National League for Democracy has been fighting for decades, Aung San Suu Kyi said, pointing to constitutional amendments, ethnic tension between Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas and the army's role as challenges facing the country.

Hollande, who met Aung San Suu Kyi when she visited Paris in 2012, pledged France's support in ensuring the country's democratic transition.

"France stands with the Burmese people as the promised reforms come into effect," he said. "We've lifted sanctions over the course of these recent years and we've made efforts to integrate Myanmar in economic and commercial procedures. But we are also attentive and concerned each time a barrier is placed on the road to democracy."

Aung San Suu Kyi spent two decades in prison or under house arrest until her detention was lifted in 2010 at the start of liberalisation by the country's military rulers.


EU extends arms embargo on Myanmar
KUNA -14 April 2014

BRUSSELS - The EU Foreign Affairs Council Monday extended the EU's sanctions against Myanmar/Burma by one year, until 30 April 2015.

The sanctions consist in an arms embargo and an embargo on equipment that may be used for internal repression, said the Council in a statement after the end of its meeting in Luxembourg tonight.

The Council also amended the sanction against North Korea so as to take account of changes agreed at the UN. But it did not give any details about the amended sanctions


Two planes crash on runway at Rangoon airport
DVB -15 April 2014

While taxiing the runway at Rangoon International Airport at about 6am on Monday morning, an A320 plane belonging to Golden Myanmar Airlines crashed into a stationary Myanmar Airways International (MAI) plane.

According to Aye Mra Thar, the marketing and public relations officer of MAI: “The Golden Myanmar aircraft was taxiing when it lost control due to a technical problem with its front gear, and it crashed into one of our aircraft.

“Our plane suffered substantial damage on the tail-side, but luckily no one was injured as it was parked,” said Aye Mra Thar.

Both planes suffered damage and costs will be estimated after the Thingyan holiday, according to Rangoon police.

Burma’s state-run national carrier, MAI operates daily international flights to Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Guangzhou, Gaya, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, and recently launched a new flight service to Pusan, South Korea.

Based out of Mandalay, Golden Myanmar Airlines launched operations only in January 2013 as a low-cost domestic and international carrier. Its main investors include the chairmen of Co-operative Bank. It currently has only two aircraft, both A320 airbuses, and runs domestic flights between Rangoon, Mandalay and Naypyidaw, with international routes to Gaya and Imphal in India, as well as Singapore and Bangkok.

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News – Ethnic nationalities/Border conflict/ Ethnic Armies

KIA Ambush Burmese Army Convoys as More Troops Deployed
KNL - 15 April 2014

Heavy fighting has continued between Kachin Independence Army (KIA) troops and Burmese Army troops during one of the Burma’s most important Thingyan (Water Festival) holidays in Kachin State.

Burmese Army’s 223rd Light Infantry Battalion troops on Tuesday attacked and seized a KIA frontline post located near Chyari Dagaw in Momauk Township at 6:15 am. This is the second time the KIA post has been seized by Burmese Army troops.

KIA troops have launched a series of bomb attacks against army convoys headed towards KIA controlled territory. The KIA says these attacks are being made as Burmese Army incursion into KIA territory in southern Kachin State deepens, and attacks against KIA positions there are being made almost daily.

On the morning of April 13, KIA roadside bombs destroyed 2 trucks of a 7-truck Burmese Army convoy headed for Sinlum from Bhamo, near Hka Wan Bang village. Another bomb attack was made against Burmese Army troops advancing towards Dagaw on April 14. On April 15, a 5-truck army convoy headed towards Muse from Kutkai, along the Nam Hkam Road in Shan State, was attacked near Nam Hpalun Mountain. The convoy was on its way to reinforce army troops in the KIA 3rd Brigade area.

Casualties from these attacks are unknown.

A local analyst says Burmese Army’s latest offensives against KIA are intended to have complete control over KIA’s Bang Hkam gate and Nam Wan/Nchawn bridge which are important for cross-border trade coupled with an earlier controversy stemming from the nationwide census. The Nam Wan/Nchawn Bridge is one of the main thorough-fare that connects southern Kachin State and China’s Yunnan province.

KIA’s 27th Battalion headquarter is located at Bang Hkam village. According to an aid worker, Bang Hkam gate has fallen into the hands of 88th Light Infantry Division (LID) troops and those government soldiers are reported to have started collecting money from local sugarcane farmers crossing the border.


Burma Army Soldiers Accused Of Armed Robbery
Karen News - 15 April 2014

Burma Army soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion 515 have allegedly stabbed and robbed a villager in Shan State on the 23rd of March.

Shan Human Rights Foundation said that the victim, a 46 year-old villager, was handing out invitation letters for his son’s ordination ceremony when two Burma Army soldiers held him at knife point and badly beat him.

“The soldiers beat him with a piece of wood on his head, face, neck; and stabbed his head, both sides of his cheeks, and the back of his neck till he lost consciousness. The Burmese soldiers then threw his body into a bush on the side of the road. The soldiers took the victim’s motorbike, about 50,000 Kyats [$55 USD] and a watch,” SHRF said in a statement.

The victim, Sai Sarng, was so badly beaten he had to be taken to Mandalay Hospital with teeth knocked out, lacerations from a knife and a broken jaw, SHRF said.

“I bought them the betel that they asked me to buy. But after I left their camp, two Burmese soldiers were waiting for me ahead and beat me till I passed out. When I woke up, I felt pain all over and found my body covered in blood; then I crawled to Hua Long village,” Sai Sarng said in the statement.

The victim’s wife questioned why Sai Sarng was attacked, “We are just ordinary villagers and make a living in a simple way. We do not have any connection with any political parties or armed groups,” she said in the statement.

Conflict has been present in Shan State since July 2011, when the Burma Army launched an offensive against Shan-State Army-North (SSA-N).

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, which tracks the flow of internally displaced people (IDPs) worldwide, estimated that armed conflict uprooted 94,500 people in Northern Shan and Kachin State.


News – Business / Economy / Industry

Mekong economic corridor offers trade openings
Bangkok Post - 16 April 2014

By Chatrudee Theparat

Thailand is being urged to accelerate wrapping up a pact on cross-border transport and invest in infrastructure to make the best use of the East-West Economic Corridor linking Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar.

Thai and foreign investors have also been urged to invest in special economic zones in Laos and Vietnam, following a survey conducted by the Asian Development Bank, Japan International Cooperation Agency, Japan External Trade Organization, Overseas Human Resources and Industry Development Association and National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) late last month.

The East-West Economic Corridor is an economic development programme initiated in 1998 by the Ministerial Conference of the Greater Mekong Sub region to promote development and integration of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.

The corridor became operational on Dec 12, 2006. It is based on a 1,450-kilometre road starting in the west at the Myanmar port of Mawlamyine and crossing the Thai provinces of Tak, Sukhothai, Phitsanulok, Phetchabun, Khon Kaen, Kalasin and Mukdahan, the Lao province of Savannakhet and the Vietnamese provinces of Quang Tri and Thau Thien–Hue before finishing at Danang in the east.

The survey showed strong potential for investment in special economic zones in Laos and Vietnam because of low labour costs, attractive privileges and the availability of long-term land rentals.

NESDB secretary-general Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said Thais should think about investing in the zones, which offer attractive investment incentives, tax privileges and one-stop services.

Laos operates three economic zones along the corridor. Tha Khek and Savan-Seno are operated by its government, while Phu Kaew is run by the private sector.

Potential investment includes trading, services, hotels, logistics, warehouses, education and public health.

Vietnam has established Lao Bao as an economic zone, with potential industries including tourism, auto parts and agro-industry.

The survey suggested the Thai government develop more facilities in the border provinces of Mukdahan and Nakhon Phanom, saying they could link to Laos, Vietnam and southern China.


NEXI to insure 95% of Myanmar venture
Jiji/the Japan News - 16 April 2014

Jiji Press Nippon Export and Investment Insurance will provide up to about ¥700 million in trade insurance for an infrastructure construction joint venture set up in Myanmar by JFE Engineering Corp., officials said Tuesday.

This is the first such support project of the government affiliate, better known as NEXI, since it sharply expanded the scope of insurance for Myanmar in January 2012 as part of Japan’s economic assistance to the country. The trade insurance will cover J&M Steel Solutions Co., the joint venture JFE Engineering established with Myanmar’s Construction Ministry in December 2013 to construct bridges.

Of the firm’s total capital of ¥1.2 billion, NEXI will insure up to about ¥700 million, or 95 percent of JFE Engineering’s interest of 60 percent.


Analysis / Opinion

NGOs Face Danger in Aid to Myanmar’s Rohingya
IRIN/Asia Sentinel - 15 April 2014

Aid agencies seek to aid hundreds of thousands of persecuted minority

Aid agencies are trying to find practical ways of getting humanitarian assistance to hundreds of thousands of people in Myanmar's Rakhine State following a series of attacks on the aid community there, and pending an agreement on the resumption of their operations.

The plight of the Rohingya, Muslim minorities in a majority Buddhist country, has been spotlighted this week by the award of the Pulitzer Prize, US journalism’s most prestigious award, to Jason Szep and Andrew Marshall of Reuters for their reporting on the Rohingya’s efforts to flee persecution and violence.

"Various aid agencies and the Myanmar authorities are working together to try to provide critical life-saving assistance immediately, while also negotiating the necessary conditions for a full-scale resumption of humanitarian programs in Rakhine," said Pierre Péron, public information and advocacy officer for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Myanmar.

"The current situation has not only affected displaced people in camps around Sittwe [the capital]. Hundreds of thousands of people in isolated villages depend on international NGOs for essential services, particularly in the northern part of Rakhine State," he said.

While negotiations took place in Yangon, humanitarians manoeuvred to continue operations in Rakhine.

According to a UN map, in 2014 47 organizations were active in the state, with 16 working in health - the most of any sector.

Said Liviu Vedrasco, technical officer at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Myanmar: "The ongoing situation is quite simply a very acute gap in both primary and secondary healthcare. The absence of these services is leaving hundreds of thousands of people without the only health care they had to begin with."

UNICEF estimates that services for an estimated 2,700 malnourished children in Rakhine are currently suspended.

"[The gap] is definitely resulting in increased health risk, but we don't have the data to say anything quantitative about specific conditions or mortality," Vedrasco said. He explained that the "Health Cluster", which he chairs, on 8 April made a formal offer to bolster the Ministry of Health's ongoing supplemental efforts in Rakhine, which amount to 50 local health workers doing the work that approximately 700 humanitarian health staff used to carry out.

"We gave them a letter offering our staff of about 47 healthcare workers, plus supplies, fuel, cars, boats - whatever we have that they can use," Vedrasco told IRIN. And while such resources on offer fall short of the full operation that existed previously, he explained: "If 100 people are working in these areas and attending to basic health care, it can keep the system afloat temporarily while the major policy discussions take place."

Calling it a "practical solution", Vedrasco explained: "It's our attempt to keep care operational in the interim while the UN and the government debate the issue of humanitarian access more broadly."

Fear persists

However, as negotiations for the resumption of full-scale aid continue, aid workers say the climate of fear means Rakhine is no longer what it once was.

"Landlords who used to rent to NGOs and UN agencies continue to receive threats and simply don't want to take any more risks," explained OCHA's Péron.

"Even with the government's support to create safe spaces for humanitarians in Sittwe and ensure security, we will face a crunch for accommodation and office space."

International aid workers were forced to flee western Myanmar after being targeted by Buddhist mobs, which threw rocks at homes and offices in Sittwe. The riots were sparked on 26 March after a foreign aid worker with Malteser International allegedly handled a Buddhist flag outside the NGO's office with disrespect, though tensions over perceived humanitarian bias towards Rohingya Muslims in the area and the ongoing federal census are believed to have contributed to the violence.

The offices of at least two UN agencies and a number of NGOs, as well as guest houses accommodating aid workers, were vandalized, damaged, or looted.

According to a 9 April government press release reported in a state-owned newspaper, the authorities were "sluggish" in their response to the violence, and the government has pledged to provide security to aid organizations and "cooperate with them on all levels".

According to the UN, there are 700,000 vulnerable people outside the camps who were receiving aid from multiple agencies. "Inside Rakhine. some logistical operations in more remote areas could possibly grind to a halt as trucks and boats aren't moving supplies as they used to," said Péron.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, in a 31 March telephone conversation with Myanmar's President Thein Sein, urged the government to "help establish a strong presence of United Nations and other international non-government organizations".

The US government demanded Myanmar provide humanitarians currently in Yangon with the necessary permissions and security to travel back to Rakhine and resume their work, and the UK expressed concern about the situation, saying: "The already dire humanitarian situation has deteriorated following the... violence against the offices and residences of humanitarian aid workers in March."

IRIN is a service of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.


Census divisions add to Myanmar's burden - By Bi Shihong
Global Times - 15 April 2014

Myanmar's first census in three decades, which kicked off on March 30 and aimed to better outline national development based on the real population numbers and social conditions, has reignited long-smouldering tensions among different ethnic groups.

The information gathered through the census will be crucial for the country's development and planning. However, the Myanmar government underestimates the challenges of carrying out the count in this poor, multiethnic and predominantly Buddhist country.

The census was supposed to end on April 10, but will be extended to the end of May. The inclusion of questions about ethnicity and race in the count has deepened worries that it would give rise to more violent nationalism, worsening discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities.

The strife-scarred state of Rakhine has borne the brunt. A contentious focus is that the local Muslim population has not been allowed to register as "Rohingyas." The Myanmar government holds that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, identifying them as "Bengalis" rather than "Rohingyas."

Department of Population Director General U Myint Kyaing told local media that "We do not have Rohingya in Myanmar […] so we cannot consider allowing them [to self-identify as such]." These policies have been criticized by some countries.

Meanwhile, Minister for Immigration and Population U Khin Yi warned that people who identify themselves as "Rohingya" in the census might face legal charges.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) in February issued an alert, claiming Myanmar's census is "overly complicated and fraught with danger." It paid special heed to the inclusion of compulsory questions about ethnicity, religion and citizenship status, which the ICG warned will be very risky for Rohingyas.

Besides, since the Myanmar government only recognizes an outdated list of 135 ethnic groups devised under British colonial rule, some ethnic groups fear that they may be denied political representation if their communities are subdivided, misclassified or clumped together with other unrelated groups.

At the policy level, the Myanmar government emphasizes freedom of religion and the development of the Muslim community.

But in reality, Myanmar Buddhists and Muslims have long been mired in conflicts, striking a blow to the country's image as well as the progress of political, economic and social reforms. Therefore, the count is very likely to inflame tensions and fuel antagonism to Muslims.

Some Christians in the states of Kachin and Chin also voiced worries about their situation. It is reported that they have been asked to identify as Buddhists if they want to be registered in the census, which caused some nongovernmental groups to call for scrapping religion and ethnicity from the census form to avoid escalating tensions.

Among the recognized 135 groups, some have changed their names, and some have only a handful of people who still identify as members.

Three groups, including the Karen People's Party, threatened to boycott the census unless the Kecho and Kebar, which have been classified as Karenni based on government data from 1983, are redefined as subgroups of the Karen.

The Kachin Democratic Party also argued that several categories and "subdivisions" should all be viewed as Kachin. Taking "subdivisions" as independent ethnic groups, they said, will jeopardize ethnic reconciliation and undermine trust that ethnic groups have in the government.

A handful of armed ethnic forces also questioned the census, since they have worried the government may take the chance to weaken their position.

The Myanmar government, which is mostly made up of the main ethnicity, Burmese, has been using the concept of the "nation" to assimilate smaller ethnic groups since independence. This is a political tool they depend on to consolidate power.

Nationalism has been gradually discarded in some developed countries, but is still cherished in Myanmar.

Will there be reforms in ethnic policies in Myanmar after the 2014 census? Will the old list of 135 groups be changed?

Carrying out the count in a transparent, peaceful and convincing manner is of vital importance, and the extended census should be in accordance with international technical and human rights standards.

Given that Myanmar is already facing controversies over constitutional amendments, the arduous work of census adds unpredictable variables to Myanmar's 2015 elections.

If transparency and fairness cannot be guaranteed in the count, ethnic conflicts and even the irrational tide of nationalism will be rekindled.

The author is a professor at the School of International Studies at Yunnan University.


Opinion: An unholy alliance of Buddhist terrorists - ByTariq A. Al-Maeena
Saudi Gazette - 15 April 2014

Siddhartha Gautama, who became universally known as the sage Buddha, was born some 2,500 years ago in Nepal. He was a human being who became acutely enlightened in understanding life and explaining it in its simplicity. It is said that he once sat under a peepal tree for 40 days and nights to attain understanding and enlightenment and once he reached that stage he felt free from greed, hatred and ignorance, and enhanced by wisdom, compassion, tolerance and freedom.

This was the message he sought to promote for the remaining years of his life to his disciples.

Unfortunately over the centuries, some of Buddha’s followers or Buddhists as they are called mutated into something far removed from the sage’s messages. Theirs has become a calling of all things evil and violent. Currently there are two such strains of Buddhists who are leading a campaign against others that is devoid of any of the sage’s messages.

One group, the Ahsin Wirathu Alliance, operating out of Burma or Myanmar, is made up of bloodthirsty Buddhists who have been terrorizing and slaughtering thousands of Myanmar’s minority Rohingya Muslims. Even Aung San Suu Kyi, a leader of the Myanmar opposition and the 1991winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, dares not venture to align herself with the cause of the displaced Rohingyas for political considerations. She has thus far been protected from any criticism for the massacres going on in her country even though some question whether she is supporting the terrorist Buddhist group which is attempting to exterminate the Muslim population in Myanmar.

Another equally vicious Buddhist group in Sri Lanka, the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), has lately begun a fierce campaign against the Tamil, Muslim and Christian minorities on the island.

Last month, events in Sri Lanka took an even more disturbing turn. Ashin Wirathu Thera, leader of the 969 Movement in Myanmar, and notorious for his anti-Islam tirades which have resulted in the slaughter of thousands of Rohingya refugees was invited by his BBS counterparts in Sri Lanka to visit the island. Time magazine has correctly described Wirathu as the “Face of Buddhist Terror”.

The meeting of two terrorist Buddhist group leaders from Myanmar and Sri Lanka does not bode well for the minorities of the island of Sri Lanka. In Myanmar, the minorities have already been subjugated to the point of being completely wiped out in some areas by acts of maximum brutality. Such acts have been muted so far in Sri Lanka, but such an unholy alliance could well spell disaster for their adversaries.

When the UN’s top human rights body launched an investigation recently into Sri Lanka’s civil war and possible war crimes against the Tamil minorities based on the recommendation of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, the Bodu Bala Sena General Secretary screamed at a press conference: “We will skin the bitch alive!” This is the same individual who flew to Burma to receive a special birthday gift from Burma’s radical monk Wirathu last month.

The mindset of this terrorist group has increasingly worried many Sinhalese who make up the majority of the population in Sri Lanka and it has greatly disturbed the many minorities who have lately witnessed an increasing number of unabashed and defiant acts against their people, places of worship and businesses. This was not Buddha’s message.

With this unholy alliance between the two terror groups in the offing, the island’s minorities are wondering if it will eventually lead to the same sort of assault and slaughter of their people as the Rohingya have faced in Myanmar. This will unquestionably lead Sri Lanka to the precipice of disaster.

The author can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena


Dams may spell disaster for Myanmar's rivers – By Louise Osborne
Deutsche Welle - 15 April 2014

Rivers are a lifeline for Myanmar's people and the environment. But a host of hydropower dams are to alter their flow. Many fear the development could spell disaster for communities and biodiversity.

Gathered on an expansive riverbank, people wearing wide, pointed hats pass heavy sacks to each other from a small wooden boat floating lightly on the dark water. Others nearby coax their buffalo away from the water's edge, driving them and the carts they are pulling high on the bank towards small wooden huts.

It's a typical scene on the banks of the Irrawaddy River, the "lifeblood" of Myanmar. The waterway provides a source of food, work and sanitation to communities living close to its banks while also offering a lifeline for wildlife such as the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin, a number of fish species and plants living in the forests surrounding the flowing water, and in the water itself.

But the lives of those living in and around the Irrawaddy, and a number of the other rivers in Myanmar, are under threat from multi-billion dollar dams being built along the waterways to create hydroelectricity, much of which will be transported to Myanmar's neighbouring countries, China and Thailand.

Threats to the ‘rice bowl’

"The Irrawaddy is very important…it has symbolic importance and for Burma as a whole it is like the lifeblood of the entire country, particularly in the delta area," Pianporn Deetes, Thailand campaign coordinator at International Rivers in Bangkok, said. The organization is dedicated to protecting rivers.

There are fears that the $3.6 billion Myitsone mega dam planned for the north of the river could block sediment flowing to the delta, which has made it a lush region home to a variety of biodiversity and known as the "rice bowl" of the country.

Construction on the dam began in 2009, following an agreement between the Myanmar Ministry of Electric Power and energy firms, China Power Investment Corporation and Myanmar's Asia World Company, according to International Rivers. Once finished, it will provide 6,000 megawatts of electricity, 90 percent of which will be transported to China.

Following heavy protest from local communities, Myanmar's President U Thein Sein announced in 2011 the project would be suspended at least until the end of the government's term next year. But the government is coming under increasing pressure from the companies responsible and Deetes fears the project could continue in the future.

"There could be a loss of fertility up the Irrawaddy as a whole, as well as the delta area, which is very important agriculturally," Deetes said.

Helping river creatures with ‘fish elevators’

Elsewhere, 13 hydropower dams are planned for the Salween River, which at 2,800 kilometres is one of the longest free-flowing rivers in southeast Asia, stretching from the Tibetan mountains through China, Myanmar and Thailand. Six of those dams will be built in Myanmar, creating a combined capacity of more than 15,000 megawatts of electricity.

Little is known about the biodiversity contained in and around the river. But, environmental organization WWF says there are around 140 different fish species in the Salween including minnows, as well as freshwater terrapins and the Asian small-clawed otter, and experts say hydro development could have a big impact on the creatures and their habitat.

"The proposed dams will have obviously deleterious effects on fish and fisheries; the dams will block fish from migrating up and downstream, which for many species is needed for spawning," Vanessa Lamb, a postdoctoral associate at the York Centre for Asian Research at York University in Toronto, said.

"The issue of fish and fisheries is of concern not only because it would affect biodiversity, but also because many people in the basin rely on the river as a source of livelihood and food," she added.

One of those dams, the $2.6-billion Hat Gyi is to be jointly developed by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) International and China's Sinohydro Corporation to generate 1,360 megawatts of electricity, according to Salween Watch, an NGO working on environmental issues in Myanmar.

An environmental impact assessment for the dam, located around 47 kilometres from the border with Thailand, proposes "fish ladders," or even "fish elevators," structures designed to assist fish in passing the obstacles, to combat the problem. But, Lamb said the technology does not exist to accommodate the different species and sizes of fish that would need to cross the dam and which navigate the river at different water levels and during different seasons.

Two sides to hydropower

But it is not only the rivers themselves that could be impacted. Activists working on the ground say they have already seen the negative effects of dams on the surrounding land.

"They [the companies] are already doing logging, landscaping and mining and some of the farmland of local people has been destroyed," Ah Nan, coordinator at Burma Rivers Network, which represents dam-affected communities in Myanmar, said "It has already changed and polluted the river, but local people are still using the water and eating the fish."

Still, while highly controversial, hydropower provides the largest source for renewable electricity – an estimated 16 percent - with most growth in the industry due to come from emerging economies, according to Esther Frey, manager, wind and hydropower at Germany Trade and Invest.

"In these [developing] countries, large and small hydropower projects can improve access to modern energy services and alleviate poverty and foster social and economic development," she said, adding these long-terms benefits could, in some cases, outweigh the costs.

Even so, Naho Mirumachi, a lecturer in geography specializing in water conflict and cooperation at King's College London, said a broader concern is the cumulative implications multiple dams may have on the country's rivers.

"If you're going to have an accelerated phase of dam development along the whole stretch of the river, then what's that going to do beyond the individual impact?" she said. "It's something that has been talked about, but not analyzed in depth."

Having studied the effects of dams in the Mekong region, which spans across south-eastern countries including Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, Mirumachi said changes to livelihood for communities have been documented.

"People having less means of supporting their livelihood as a result of less fish catch, unpredictable water flows or changes to sediment load to the bank," said Mirumachi. "But whether that can change public policies or business practices, I think is a different story."


Will development overshadow Myanmar’s rich cultural history? - By Jeffrey Brown
PBS News Hour - 15 April 2014

GWEN IFILL: Now part two of Jeffrey Brown’s look at Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma.

After years of turmoil, the military government is moving toward political reform. But, as the country begins to open up to the outside world, there’s a new concern: how development could overshadow its architectural and archaeological past.

That’s the subject of Jeff’s report tonight, which also marks the beginning of a new series, one we call Culture at Risk. We will explore the impact of war, climate change, neglect and more on cultural artefacts around the world.

JEFFREY BROWN: The afternoon rush hour in Yangon, as workers board water taxis for the commute home.

On the streets, food vendors serve tea and noodles. Buddhist monks in their maroon robes are everywhere. And the ancient Shwedagon Pagoda, hundreds of temples, statues and stupas, remains the country’s most important shrine.

Yangon, the city once known as Rangoon, is often said to be frozen in time, the result of a military regime that kept this country largely isolated from the outside world for more than 50 years. But that’s changing now, and quickly, and a key question here is how to preserve something of the past while moving into a 21st century future.

THANT MYINT-U, Yangon Heritage Trust: There’s no urban landscape like this left anywhere in the world.

JEFFREY BROWN: Thant Myint U, a Harvard-educated historian, is head of the Yangon Heritage Trust. As Myanmar opens up, he says, the nation’s very sense of itself, told in part through its buildings, is at stake.

THANT MYINT-U: What we have now is a physical landscape starting to change, but also this opportunity to remember this history, and to try to begin to save what we can before it’s too late.

JEFFREY BROWN: Downtown Yangon is filled with grand buildings, many from its British-ruled colonial-era, the end of the 19th century until World War II.

The huge Secretariat, for example, housed the British administration, but was also the site of the assassination of Burma’s independence hero, Aung San, father of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Some buildings have been restored, like the Strand Hotel, where Rudyard Kipling and George Orwell stayed, and the Rowe & Co., the city’s first department store, soon to open as a bank headquarters.

THANT MYINT-U: I guess, for these 34 years, it hasn’t really received any attention.

JEFFREY BROWN: But many others, like the Balthazar, have stood in a state of neglect for decades.

THANT MYINT-U: So you have this kind of dystopian world here.


And today serve as home to squatters who live among rats and squalor.

THANT MYINT-U: And this is really a building that people shouldn’t be living in.

JEFFREY BROWN: Hundreds of buildings have already been torn down to make way for new ones, and Thant Myint-U and his colleagues are working to preserve what they can.

What started with the plight of a handful of buildings has become a larger quest for smart growth.

THANT MYINT-U: The last thing that I would want to see is a sort of sanitized tourist zone that’s good for just tourists and some rich Burmese, with five-star hotels and very expensive restaurants, so I think trying to get the economics of conservation right, seeing how we cannot just preserve the buildings, but really try to keep intact some of these communities that have been here for generations.

JEFFREY BROWN: Some of this history is very complicated. Yangon has a colonial past and a lot of people, I would think, don’t really want to remember it.

THANT MYINT-U: No one has a positive view of colonialism as colonialism, but what I try to say is that this colonial era landscape downtown is also where the Burmese people first learned to be modern. It’s where Burma’s greatest anti-colonial politicians, anti-colonial writers, others, musicians, artists, others lived and worked, and so it’s important for our history.

JEFFREY BROWN: This remains an extremely poor country, where most people live through subsistence farming. But, as the military government has relaxed its grip on the economy, investment is pouring in from Asia, as well as Europe and the U.S.

And Yangon’s population is expected to quadruple to 10 million in the next 25 years. The demand for office space and housing is exploding, and rents are already skyrocketing, especially downtown, where new buildings sit, uneasily at times, next to old.

JEFFREY BROWN: This is tearing down what was here, which was…

MOE ZAT MONE, Unique Asia Gate, Ltd: Yes, I feel a little bit sorry for an older building that has been torn down and…

JEFFREY BROWN: You feel a little sorry?

MOE ZAT MONE: Yes, but I got no choice. So, it has got to be done.

JEFFREY BROWN: Twenty-nine-year-old Moe Zat Mone oversees operations at two construction companies that operate around the country. A native of Yangon, educated in England, he’s eager to be part of change and growth in Myanmar.

MOE ZAT MONE: According to the architecture, this is what we call urban boutique.

JEFFREY BROWN: Urban boutique hotel?

He showed us a model for a new luxury hotel, planned as three stories for now, but depending on what investors want, possibly as high as 15, all part, he says, of developing a modern city.

MOE ZAT MONE: But we need more infrastructure, such as more hotels, hospitals, schools, and more service apartments for the office rental.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, are you optimistic that Yangon can be a livable city, even as it grows?

MOE ZAT MONE: Absolutely.

I think it, come in five years’ time, I think this country — I mean, this city will be able to compete with our neighbour’s country, South Asia.

JEFFREY BROWN: Come in five years’ time? Well, many are already coming, some touring in hot air balloons.

And here in Bagan, 300 miles Northwest of Yangon, that raises other questions for the future. Bagan is an archaeological wonder, capital of a former Burmese kingdom and said to contain the highest concentration of Buddhist architecture of any place in the world, several thousand pagodas, and temples in a variety of shapes, styles and sizes, some dating back more than 1,000 years.

One issue here is sheer numbers: How many tourists, and hotels and buses to accommodate them, can the site hold? Of course, if you’re a carriage driver, like Myo Han, the more tourists, the better for you and your children. His youngest is finishing high school soon, the first in the family to do so, with the hope of becoming a tour guide.

Myo Han himself was once a farmer.

MYO HAN, (through interpreter): A farmer’s life is very hard and poor. Driving a horse carriage is easier. I can make much more money.

JEFFREY BROWN: Another issue here: highly controversial restoration and rebuilding practices.

So the monastery was there?

U MYO NUNT, Department of Archaeology, Bagan: Yes, it’s monastery complex.

JEFFREY BROWN: A monastery complex?

U Myo Nyunt served until recently as deputy director of the Department of Archaeology in Bagan. He explained that, as earthquakes took their toll over the years, much restoration was done piecemeal, and not by internationally recognized standards.

But these are Buddhist shrines, he points out, seen as places of places of worship.

U MYO NUNT (through interpreter): People put gold coating or lime wash on the pagodas to make them look nice, thinking that will bring them good karma.

JEFFREY BROWN: Other practices, such as the building of faux historic pagodas, this one by a former top general, also raised concerns, all of this leading UNESCO to deny Bagan World Heritage designation.

There is now internationally sanctioned work being done here. We watched an effort at one of Bagan’s oldest and most important structures, the 12th century Ananda Temple, to remove layers of white lime coatings. It’s a $22 million project being financed by the government of India, and overseen by Indian experts.

At the Ministry of Culture, as young people rehearsed traditional dances, another kind of cultural preservation, Deputy Minister Sanda Khin insisted that a new awareness had taken hold.

SANDA KHIN, Deputy Minister of Culture, Myanmar (through interpreter): Earlier generations tried to preserve their precious monuments in their own way. At the time, the study of archaeological practices wasn’t widespread, so they used their own traditional ways.

But, for the last 20 years, with the assistance of UNESCO, we have learned the proper ways of preservation that are in accordance with international norms.

JEFFREY BROWN: Today, Myanmar wrestles with many challenges: longstanding ethnic tensions, an uncertain move to democracy, and a jolt into the global marketplace.

Add one more: how to manage and preserve part of its past, even while building its future.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you can see more photos of the stunning architecture of Bagan. That’s on Art Beat.


Previous Headlines


News – Ethnic nationalities/Border conflict/ Ethnic Armies

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News – General& International

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News – Government / Political Parties

Burma Not Yet A Democracy, At Dangerous Crossroads, Says Nobel Peace Prize Winner - NTD TV - 14 April 2014

News – Business / Economy / Industry

Burma’s poultry potential - DVB - 15 April 2014

Myanmar: Economic Opportunities Continue To Grow - Mondaq - 14 April 2014

Analysis / Opinion

Investing in Myanmar: Balancing risk and reward (Part 1) - By Eric Rose, Nina Dunn - Inside Counsel - 14 April 2014

Extremism may throw Myanmar off course - By Yu Jincui  - Global Times - 14 April 2014

A Bin Laden in Burma - By Zaffar-Choudary - Rising Kashimir - 14 April 2014

Inside Myanmar’s transition from isolation to openness – By Jeffrey Brown - PBS News Hour - 14 April 2014

India’s Look East policy in need of a relook - By Tridivesh Singh Maini - East Asia Forum - 12 April 2014


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