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Posted by on in Business

Persecuted Muslims in Myanmar Fleeing By Boat to Thailand


A Rohingya woman carries her sick baby to a clinic at Dar Baing Muslim refugee camp near Sittwe, Rakhine State, western Myanmar, on Nov. 10, 2014. (EPA Photo/Nyunt Win)

Ranong, Thailand. The smuggling of Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar is so lucrative that Thai fishermen are converting their boats to carry humans, according to police and officials in southern Thailand.

In recent weeks, thousands of Rohingya, a mostly stateless people, have sailed across the Bay of Bengal to the west coast of Thailand, from where human smugglers deliver them to neighboring Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country, where they can find jobs.

Some boat operators in Ranong province, which has a large fishing industry, are adapting to profit from the exodus, said Sanya Prakobphol, chief of police in Kapoe district.

“The fishing business isn’t so good so the fishermen make their boats people-carrying boats,” Sanya said. “Some converted Ranong boats can carry up to 1,000 people.”

The Royal Thai Navy said last month that most smuggling and trafficking ships plying the Bay of Bengal were from Thailand. The navy also said it had increased patrols.

According to the Arakan Project, which plots migration across the Bay of Bengal, about 100,000 Rohingya have left Myanmar’s Rakhine state since 2012. Violent clashes with ethnic Rakhine Buddhists that year killed hundreds and left 140,000 homeless, most of them Rohingya.

Ranong’s provincial capital, which goes by the same name, is a port city just 40 minutes by boat from Myanmar. Migrants have historically formed the backbone of its seafood industry.

Hanif, who uses only one name, said he had helped a fellow Ranong fisherman strip the interior of a boat to hold people.

“He is getting very rich,” said Hanif as he sorted piles of ribbon fish and mackerel. “He wanted to make as much room as possible to carry more in one trip.”

Many locals saw nothing wrong with transporting boat people, said Manit Pianthong, chief of Takua Pa district in neighboring Phang Nga province.

“Villagers and fisherman have been living with migrants coming in and out of Thailand for more than 30 years because of our proximity to Myanmar,” he said.

“That’s why we need to educate them slowly and show them that this is wrong.”

Thailand is also one of the worst countries globally for human trafficking.


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Activities of Secretary-General in Myanmar, 11-13 November

United Nations Secretary‑General Ban Ki‑moon, accompanied by Madam Ban Soon‑taek, arrived in Nay Pyi Taw, the capital of Myanmar, from New York, via Incheon, late in the evening of 11 November, to attend the twenty-fifth annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit.

Prior to attending the official opening ceremony of the Summit, the Secretary‑General had a bilateral meeting with Nguyen Tan Dung, Prime Minister of Viet Nam.  The Secretary‑General thanked the Prime Minister for Viet Nam's leading role in the Delivering as One process and support for building the Green One UN House.  They exchanged views on the ASEAN-United Nations partnership and the South China Sea.  The Secretary‑General and the Prime Minister also discussed the post-2015 sustainable development goals.

On the margins of the opening ceremony, the Secretary‑General met with Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen, Prime Minister of Cambodia.  They exchanged views on the ASEAN-United Nations partnership, agreeing on the need to further strengthen cooperation.  They also discussed the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).  The Secretary‑General thanked the Prime Minister for the Government's payment of the salaries of the national staff working for ECCC and asked for the continued support for ECCC in 2015, including regarding the salary payments.

As part of his visit to Myanmar, the Secretary‑General met with leaders of local private sector companies who are members of the United Nations Global Compact initiative.  He told the business leaders that embracing the Global Compact principles could help to build a more inclusive economy and achieve sustainable development.  He added that building an economy with wider linkages across the world will be an essential pillar for promoting national harmony, including in Rakhine, and Myanmar's democratization process.

Immediately thereafter, the Secretary‑General met with U Sai Mauk Kham, Vice-President of Myanmar.

Later that afternoon, after a private lunch, the Secretary‑General met with the United Nations country team.  The team briefed him on the various programmes managed by the United Nations system in Myanmar.  The Secretary‑General thanked the team for all of the efforts of the United Nations system to assist Myanmar in furthering its development and the democratization process.

The Secretary‑General then attended the sixth annual ASEAN-United Nations Summit, of which he is a Co-chair.  He told the gathered Heads of State and Government that the United Nations is currently striving to address the multiple crises the world is facing while keeping its eyes on the longer term challenges, such as climate change.  He said that he counted on the support of ASEAN members at the Conference of Parties in Lima in December 2014 and in Paris in 2015.  (See Press Release SG/SM/16334.)

The Secretary‑General underscored the progress made by ASEAN nations in meeting the Millennium Development Goals.  In fact, he added, ASEAN countries lead the work in Millennium Development Goal performance.  He stressed that the United Nations cannot tackle these problems without the active support of regional organizations, such as ASEAN.  The Secretary‑General went on to note that discrimination against minorities and violence against women remain serious challenges in the region.  But he noted that the United Nations stands ready to work with ASEAN to strengthen national capacities to promote human rights.

Immediately afterwards, the Secretary‑General held a press conference.  In his opening remarks, the Secretary‑General said that ASEAN countries have a central role to play in addressing the major challenges we are facing in setting the world on a more peaceful, sustainable and equitable path.

He shared with the journalists that earlier in the day he had met with senior leaders in the Myanmar Government, including the Vice‑President.  He said he had commended the Government for its continued efforts to implement an ambitious reform agenda.  "I encouraged the nation's leadership to take a unified and visible stance against incitement and divisiveness, and to actively promote national harmony and reconciliation," he said.  Mr. Ban expressed his concern about competing territorial or maritime claims in the region, which could escalate if not managed well.  He also called on all of Asia's leaders to pursue dialogue, exercise restraint, avoid provocation and resolve their disputes in a peaceful manner.

Also on Wednesday, the Secretary‑General met with Dato' Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak, Prime Minister of Malaysia.  He also met with Prayuth Chan-ocha, Prime Minister of Thailand.

That evening, the Secretary‑General, accompanied by Madam Ban, attended a gala dinner hosted by U Thein Sein, President of Myanmar.

On Thursday morning, the Secretary‑General continued with a series of bilateral meetings, starting with Joko Widodo, President of Indonesia.

Later that morning, the Secretary‑General attended the opening ceremony of the ninth East Asia Summit.  He told the assembled delegates that East Asia and "indeed the world, will benefit from a future-oriented Asia that is ever more integrated - engaged - and assuming greater responsibilities commensurate with its clout".  He added that the region is an engine of global growth and can also be an engine of global solidarity.  (See Press Release SG/SM/16336.)

Immediately afterwards, the Secretary‑General met with Takehiko Nakao, President of the Asian Development Bank.

Later in the morning, the Secretary‑General met with Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister of the Russian Federation.  They discussed the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.  The Secretary‑General expressed his strong concern at the current situation and its impact on the relations between Russia and Europe, as well as with the United States.  He also stressed to the Prime Minister that Russia should use its considerable influence to help de-escalate the situation on the ground in the south-east part of the country and bring Ukraine back to a path of peace and stability.  He reiterated his position that all parties should ensure that the Minsk Protocol be fully implemented.

In the afternoon the Secretary‑General held a series of separate meetings focused on Myanmar.

In a meeting with President Sein, the Secretary‑General commended the President's leadership in advancing the peace process between the Government and ethnic armed groups.  In light of recent developments, he underlined the need for all stakeholders to take a leap of faith and move forward with mutual trust and confidence toward the signing of a nationwide ceasefire and beginning a discussion on the framework of a political dialogue.  Concerning the situation in Rakhine and the continued polarization between the communities, the Secretary‑General took note of the recent steps taken by the Government in Rakhine, including the appointment of a new Chief Minister and consultations on the three-year Action Plan.  At the same time, he stressed that the underlying causes had to be addressed through substantive and early action, including on the issue of citizenship.

He also met that day with the Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament, Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, Thura Shwe Mann, as well as with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Chairperson of the Union Parliament Committee for the Rule of Law and Tranquillity and Chairperson of the National League for Democracy.

The Secretary‑General's discussions with Ms. Suu Kyi touched on her role in Parliament and in the broader political and socioeconomic sphere in the country.  The Secretary‑General underlined that there was great expectation that the upcoming elections in 2015 would be credible, inclusive, transparent and fair and would provide solid evidence of the consolidation of the democratic process in the country.

In his meeting with Mr. Shwe Mann, the Secretary‑General highlighted the positive role played by Myanmar's Parliament as a prominent example of change in Myanmar through its active, vigorous and decisive debates on political, developmental and social issues since the start of the reform and democratization processes.

The Secretary‑General added that the debates in Parliament on media laws, hate speech, interfaith marriage, religious conversion and other issues would help promote democracy and communal harmony.  The Secretary‑General underlined that there was great expectation that the upcoming elections in 2015 would be credible, inclusive, transparent and fair and would provide solid evidence of the consolidation of the democratic process in the country.

He ended the day with a group interview with local Myanmar media.

In the evening, the Secretary‑General and his delegation departed Nay Pyi Taw for Brisbane, Australia, to attend the G20 Summit.

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Posted by on in Business

MYANMAR: The Generals Are Not Interested

November 17, 2014: The government is now under pressure from the United States as well as the UN and the Moslem world to do something about the continuing bad treatment of Burmese Moslems. The government plan for granting citizenship to Rohingya Moslems is considered a failure and a deception outside of Burma because the procedure allowed very few Rohingya to qualify and most Rohingya are going to remain stateless despite this “reform”. Thus the international pressure on Burma to make the Rohingya Burmese citizens intensifies. This would, according to the foreign critics, halt the violence between Moslems and Buddhists in Burma. That’s unlikely as far as most Burmese are concerned. Burmese also point out that the problem of countries refusing to grant citizenship to a minority is an old one that is not easily solved. The most notorious example of this is found in Arab nations where it is quite common. The most troublesome example is the Palestinians, who are refused citizenship in most Arab countries where they find themselves as refugees. This citizenship for migrants issue is less of a problem in Western nations and a few Middle Eastern ones (like Israel and Jordan) but is not really an anti-Palestinian effort as much as it is the continuation of an ancient practice which is common in eastern Asia and Europe as well. Burma long refused to even consider making the Rohingya citizens, despite the fact that most Rohingya have lived in Burma for over a century. Some Rohingya still have kin back in Bangladesh but tend to consider themselves Burmese. Meanwhile there is growing popular anger among Burmese towards Moslems in general and the Rohingya in particular. This is fed by the continuing reports of Islamic terrorism word-wide and especially in the region (Thailand, India, Bangladesh and China). The wealthy Arab oil states have put their considerable diplomatic and economic pressure on the UN to make a fuss but the Burmese generals long insisted that this could be safely ignored as they have been ignoring UN criticism for over half a century and getting away with it. The Arabs don’t get a lot of sympathy outside the Moslem world because anyone who can count notes that there is a lot more oppression and violence against non-Moslems by Moslems than the other way around. As more Western nations joined in with the demands for granting citizenship for Rohingya the government decided to make a gesture. But now that the gesture has been rejected the pressure will continue. Burmese officials are standing by their belief that granting Moslems citizenship would result in more anti-Moslem violence. The generals have another reason for stonewalling the foreigners and that is that the Moslem issue prevents the foreigners from concentrating on the fact that the former military dictators of Burma are still running things and resisting efforts by Burmese reformers to install true democracy. That would likely result in prosecution of many officers who ran the previous military dictatorship. These officers would be charged with all sorts of crimes, from murdering and illegally jailing political opponents to corruption. The generals are not interested in paying for their past crimes.

On the west coast (Chin state) the local government has shut down four ethnic newspapers in the last month. The given reason is that these newspapers had not bothered to register with the government. These papers have been publishing for years (one as long as ten years) without registration and the current closures are believed related to officials trying to extract bribes.

Another issued with the Rohingya is the illegal migration of Rohingya from Burma and Bangladesh. These people pay smugglers to take them to Malaysia, Thailand, India or more distant points (like Indonesia). Rohingya activists claim that 16,000 people have left in the last month, 75 percent of them from Burma. But several thousand appear to have disappeared. Rohingya also accuse security forces in Burma and Thailand of working with the smugglers, usually in the form of taking bribes to allow the smuggler boats to pass without interference. Some Rohingya say the missing Rohingya refugees were murdered by security forces who sank their boats. Others point out that smugglers tend to use poorly maintained boats, which are often overloaded and this leads to boats sinking, especially in bad weather or being stranded when engines fail. Over 100,000 Rohingya are believed to have fled Burma by sea since the anti-Moslem violence began there in 2012.

In the north (Shan state) the army continues peace talks with the Shan State Army (SSA). The main obstacle to signing a new ceasefire with the tribal rebels is demands by different SSA factions for slightly different ceasefire conditions. Despite the January 2012 ceasefire with SSA fighting has continued. Low level combat has been going on in Shan state since June. The Shan aren’t the only tribal coalition with faction problems. The KNU (Karen National Union) has a similar problem with the majority of factions wanting a ceasefire deal while a minority wants to fight on for better terms.  

In the north the KIA (Kachin Independence Army) is under growing pressure from tribal leaders to free 200 Shan people they forcibly conscripted since 2011. These conscripts are used to carry stuff and provide other support for the armed rebels. Such misbehavior is common in the tribal north and some of the tribal rebels are more troublesome in that regard than others. The KIA are also accused of demanding protection money from the jade mining companies in the area. Burma is the main source of jade on the planet and exports about $4 billion worth each year. Yet only about one percent of that is taxed and half of it is found by illegal mining operations and is quietly sold to Chinese traders. Most of the illegal jade trade is controlled by generals who have connections inside China. The rest is controlled by rebels. Most of the jade is in the northern tribal territories and the army is constantly trying to force tribal rebels out of jade producing areas.  The military men are not giving up all their illegal businesses and the government, despite being elected, is reluctant to force the issue, at least not yet, especially when it comes to the lucrative illegal jade trade.

Shan tribal leaders are also complaining to the national government about the recent census, which counted only 300,000 of the half million Shan people in Kachin state. The government says that this is not their fault because tribal rebels prevented census workers from entering some tribal areas.

Heroin production continues to grow in the tribal north, protected by military and government officials willing to leave the drug gangs alone if the bribes are large enough. All this has global implications. Although Afghan poppy production (measured by the area planted) increased this year, the Afghan share of the worldwide heroin trade was only 75 percent, and declining. Northern Burma is making a comeback. Northern Burma was the main source until the 1980s, when production was forced out and moved to Pakistan and then Afghanistan. The Burmese competition is driving down prices and the drug gangs are trying to make up for the lost income by increasing production. These Burmese tribes had once produced most of the world’s opium, but had their operations shut down by a vigorous government offensive in the 1980s. Opium production shifted to the Pushtun tribes (first in Pakistan, then across the border to Afghanistan). By the 1990s 90 percent of opium and heroin was coming from Afghanistan. As a result of the Burmese resurgence producer income per kilo (2.2 pounds) for heroin has been declining and is likely to decline more as the Burmese tribes continue to increase production. As happened in Afghanistan, heroin is a lot cheaper right where it is produced and there is a growing problem with heroin addiction in northern Burma near the Chinese border. Tribal leaders are not happy with this, but as long as the government tolerates the bribery of officials up there, nothing can stop the heavily armed and wealthy drug gangs.

November 16, 2014: For the third day in a row students demonstrated in the capital. The students are opposing a new education law that they believe will reduce academic freedom. During the half century of military rule there was no academic freedom and educational standards fell as well. The students are also opposed to all government efforts to maintain the power of the generals and other officers who once ruled as a military dictatorship.

November 14, 2014: China and Burma agreed to another $7.8 billion in economic deals, most of them involving Chinese money invested into Burmese projects. These new deals are an attempt to rescue some older projects that have been stalled. The problem here is that three decades of unprecedented economic growth in China has caused even more Chinese and their new wealth to find its way into northern Burma looking for profitable opportunities. In the last decade that has led to some major (multi-billion dollar), government backed investments in hydroelectric dams and mines. Projects like this need legal protections, especially ownership of or legal access to lots of land. Each major project creates the need for hundreds of smaller enterprises and lots of economic growth in general. All these businesses want legal ownership or leases on land. Burmese entrepreneurs from down south are glad to oblige and bribe (or partner with) government officials and military commanders up north to “legally” steal tribal land. Eventually this leads to another tribal rebellion, but that’s simply a cost of doing business up north. But it has led to billions of dollars in projects being stalled because of tribal violence against the Chinese.

November 2, 2014: In the north (Shan state) the army resumed peace talks with the Shan State Army (SSA). Each time this happens the talks last a few days (or less) until both sides have issues they have to take up with their followers before holding another meeting.

October 31, 2014: The United States imposed sanctions on a prominent, anti-reform Burmese businessman. This was done to show American support for constitutional reforms in Burma that would allow for true democracy. Burmese reformers accuse the United States of underestimating the resolve and capabilities of the former military leaders who ran Burma until 2011. These men have resisted reforms that would make them accountable.

October 26, 2014: It became known that a Burmese journalist was killed (in the east, Mon state) and quietly buried by the military on October 4th. The army said the journalist was actually a tribal rebel and had lunged for a soldiers’ weapon in an escape attempt. Turned out that the dead man was a journalist but that he had once worked for prominent reform organizations. This made him suspect to the military and the army is accused of murdering the man. An investigation is under way.  


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Posted by on in Business

Business Leaders Hold Summit in Myanmar

NAY PYI TAW, 15 November 2014 - The ASEAN business community held its own parallel event at the sidelines of the 25h ASEAN Summit.  The 11th ASEAN Business and Investment Summit (ASEAN-BIS) was held in Nay Pyi Taw from 11-13 November 2014 with the theme "Inclusive Connectivity: New Growth Paradigm."

The Summit was opened by H.E. U Thein Sein, President of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.  It was attended by over 500 business participants from the 10 ASEAN Member States.  The annual ASEAN-BIS is seen as an important annual event to further raise awareness of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) among the business communities of ASEAN and to enhance linkages amongst them. 

In his keynote speech, President Thein Sein paid tribute to the role of ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN-BAC)in fostering market competitiveness of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).  He stressed that "we as ASEAN, a people-centred and people-oriented organisation, must highlight the importance of people's participation in the business environment, along with inclusiveness and transparency."

ASEAN-BIS sessions focused on the need for inclusive connectivity in growth, noting that ASEAN needs to better leverage on its cultural bonds, historical ties and infrastructure growth to further advance the region's potential.  ASEAN-BIS also deliberated on the region's economic opportunities and implementation strategies that could enhance ASEAN regional integration.  Another important focus of the 11th ASEAN-BIS was on MSMEs, with participants seeking to gain a better understanding of the developments within ASEAN and the role of MSMEs towards the realisation of the economic community.  Other issues considered were the potential of the ASEAN consumers, the need to narrow the development gap, financial inclusion and the digital landscape.

An important event that accompanied ABIS was the ASEAN Business Awards. A total of 21 ASEAN companies were honoured for their excellence in Innovation, outstanding MSMEs, Young Entrepreneurs, Women Leaders, Corporate Excellence and ASEAN Centricity.

This leading ASEAN business event was organized by ASEAN-BAC, helmed this year by U Win Aung, Chair of ASEAN-BAC 2014 and head of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry. 

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Obama criticises rules barring Aung San Suu Kyi from Myanmar presidency

On a visit to Myanmar, US President Barack Obama has criticised the rules that prevent pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president of her country.

Washington has pressed for more change in the nation also known as Burma, where political and economic reforms launched two years ago seem to have stalled.

After a warm embrace the two Nobel laureates got down to business.

Suu Kyi is barred from running in next year’s presidential election because her two sons are foreign nationals.

“The Constitutional amendment process needs to reflect inclusion rather than exclusion. For example, I don’t understand the provision which would bar somebody from running for president because of who their children are. That doesn’t make much sense to me,” Obama said.

“Now we are asking for Constitution amendments, not because we are trying to win a case, but because we think that certain amendments are necessary if this country is to be a truly functioning democracy in line with the will of the people,” added Aung San Suu Kyi.

The US has urged Myanmar to allow minority Rohingya Muslims to become citizens and scrap plans to send them to detention camps if they don’t identify themselves as Bengalis, a term they say wrongly implies they are immigrants.

Tens of thousands were displaced in clashes with ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in western Myanmar 2012.

Obama said: “We’re paying attention at how religion minorities are treated in this country. I recognise the complexity of the situation in the Rakhine State. On the other hand I’m a firm believer that any legitimate government has to be based on the rule of law and on the recognition that all people are equal under the law.”

Asked about the Rohingyas’ plight, Suu Kyi said she was against violence of any kind and that a solution must come through the rule of law.

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Friday, November 21, 2014
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