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.
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.”
process, Suu Kyi affirmed, involves national reconciliation and a curtailing of
military influence in politics, both to be achieved via constitutional reform.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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
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.
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.”
opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi called for international support as her
country faces a "difficult period of transition" on a visit to Paris
talks with French President François Hollande, the Nobel Peace Prize winner
described the atmosphere in Myanmar as tense.
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.
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
who met Aung San Suu Kyi when she visited Paris in 2012, pledged France's
support in ensuring the country's democratic transition.
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."
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
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.
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.
plane suffered substantial damage on the tail-side, but luckily no one was
injured as it was parked,” said Aye Mra Thar.
planes suffered damage and costs will be estimated after the Thingyan holiday,
according to Rangoon police.
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.
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.
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
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 from Light Infantry Battalion
515 have allegedly stabbed and robbed a villager in Shan State on the 23rd of
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.
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
Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said Thais should think about investing in the zones,
which offer attractive investment incentives, tax privileges and one-stop
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.
includes trading, services, hotels, logistics, warehouses, education and public
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.
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.
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,"
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
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
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."
is a service of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian
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
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
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
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
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
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.
author is a professor at the School of International Studies at Yunnan
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.
author can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Two sides to hydropower
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
[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."
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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."
IFILL: Now part two of Jeffrey Brown’s look at Myanmar, the country formerly
known as Burma.
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
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.
BROWN: The afternoon rush hour in Yangon, as workers board water taxis for the
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.
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
MYINT-U, Yangon Heritage Trust: There’s no urban landscape like this left
anywhere in the world.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
MYINT-U: I guess, for these 34 years, it hasn’t really received any attention.
BROWN: But many others, like the Balthazar, have stood in a state of neglect
MYINT-U: So you have this kind of dystopian world here.
BROWN: Oh, wow.
today serve as home to squatters who live among rats and squalor.
MYINT-U: And this is really a building that people shouldn’t be living in.
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
started with the plight of a handful of buildings has become a larger quest for
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
BROWN: This is tearing down what was here, which was…
ZAT MONE, Unique Asia Gate, Ltd: Yes, I feel a little bit sorry for an older
building that has been torn down and…
BROWN: You feel a little sorry?
ZAT MONE: Yes, but I got no choice. So, it has got to be done.
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.
ZAT MONE: According to the architecture, this is what we call urban boutique.
BROWN: Urban boutique hotel?
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.
ZAT MONE: But we need more infrastructure, such as more hotels, hospitals,
schools, and more service apartments for the office rental.
BROWN: So, are you optimistic that Yangon can be a livable city, even as it
ZAT MONE: Absolutely.
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.
BROWN: Come in five years’ time? Well, many are already coming, some touring in
hot air balloons.
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.
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.
Han himself was once a farmer.
HAN, (through interpreter): A farmer’s life is very hard and poor. Driving a
horse carriage is easier. I can make much more money.
BROWN: Another issue here: highly controversial restoration and rebuilding practices.
the monastery was there?
MYO NUNT, Department of Archaeology, Bagan: Yes, it’s monastery complex.
BROWN: A monastery complex?
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
these are Buddhist shrines, he points out, seen as places of places of worship.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
BROWN: Today, Myanmar wrestles with many challenges: longstanding ethnic
tensions, an uncertain move to democracy, and a jolt into the global
one more: how to manage and preserve part of its past, even while building its
WOODRUFF: And you can see more photos of the stunning architecture of Bagan.
That’s on Art Beat.