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Myanmar athletes take training for 9th SEA Youth Athletics Championships

YANGON, April 11 (Xinhua) -- A 58-member athletics squad are under intensive training for the upcoming 9th Southeast Asian Youth Athletics Championships to be hosted in Myanmar this month, sports circle said Friday.

The squad comprising outstanding athletes was selected last Thursday and Friday.

More than 200 athletes will participate at the 9th Southeast Asian Youth Athletics Championships to be hosted at Wunna Theikhdi stadium in Nay Pyi Taw on April 27-28.

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Thailand Tourism Officials Say Bangkok Remains Safe And Open For Business

Thailand Protests

A vast area of greater Bangkok was under a state of emergency Sunday night, though there were no reports of any major incidents of violence. Most banks, hotels, convention centers, restaurants and entertainment complexes in the capital remained open, as did all tourist attractions in and around the city such as the Grand Palace, Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Vimanmek Mansion and Siam Paragon.

“While the demonstrations are taking place in the central Bangkok areas, life in most parts of the Thai capital and throughout Thailand continues as usual. However, tourists are advised to be vigilant and avoid the demonstration areas for their own safety and security,” the Tourism Authority of Thailand, or TAT, said in a Feb. 2 situation update.

“There is currently no curfew in place in Bangkok or any other parts of Thailand,” it added. “Local residents and international visitors can continue to travel within Bangkok and other destinations in the country as usual.”

TAT Governor Thawatchai Arunyik suggested at an ASEAN Tourism Forum in Malaysia last week that it was a good time for travel buyers and tourists to discover new destinations, especially those in the provinces bordering Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

“This is the best time to discover the wonderful new destinations that will emerge in the future thanks to the Asian Highway. Not many people know that there are four bridges connecting Thailand to Laos over the Mekong River and that it is now possible to drive from the eastern Thai border town of Aranyaprathet to Siem Reap, gateway to the famous temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia,” he said.

Mobility remains the biggest issue facing visitors to the capital, with protesters regularly cutting off major Bangkok intersections in a self-styled shutdown. As a result, popular tourist areas such as Silom, Asok and the Ratchprasong intersection (home to several international hotels like Four Seasons, Hyatt and InterContinental) have been intermittently inaccessible.

Tourism officials urged visitors to depart for their scheduled flights out of Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang International Airports at least four hours ahead of time. TAT set up tourist care units at both airports last month, along with a tourist care center at the Sports Authority of Thailand at Hua Mak Stadium. It said it was working with the Tourist Police, Immigration Bureau, Metropolitan Police Bureau, Railway Police Unit, Tourism Council of Thailand, Thai Hotels Association, Road Passenger Transport Association and Association of Thai Travel Agents to ensure all involved in the tourism industry were united in their efforts.

Thailand’s Minister of Tourism and Sports Somsak Phurisisak recently predicted that January arrivals would fall by half to 1 million, with some hotels in the capital, Pattaya and elsewhere experiencing occupancy rates of just 30 percent. Much of that decline is thought to have come from the Chinese market after the nation warned its citizens to avoid protest sites and reconsider nonessential travel to Thailand over the popular Lunar New Year travel period.

At least 45 other countries, including the U.S., Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Japan and Brazil, have issued travel alerts for Thailand since protests escalated in mid-January. After the government imposed a state of emergency for Bangkok on Jan. 22, several nations urged citizens to reconsider trips altogether, while Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways and other Asian carriers axed flights into Bangkok due to a drop in demand.

The Tourism Council of Thailand estimated that the loss of revenue last month alone will total 22.5 billion baht ($685 million), though analysts point out that “Teflon Thailand” has been quick to rebound after economic shocks both natural (the 2004 tsunami) and political (the less peaceful protests of 2008 and 2010).

The current round of demonstrations in Thailand erupted back in November when the government attempted to force through a political amnesty bill that would have enabled the return of former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s billionaire brother who was ousted in a military coup in 2006 on charges of corruption. Thaksin now lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai to avoid a prison term, though he argues his punishment was politically motivated.

Many of the protesters gathering on Bangkok’s streets come from the middle and upper class, and claim Yingluck’s government is controlled by her brother. Fearing that she could win the Feb. 2 elections on the back of support in the rural north and northeast, they’ve called for her to step down and be replaced by an appointed “people’s council” to push through electoral reforms.

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Posted by on in Sports

Tortoises branded, with reason

Rare tortoises are branded to make them unattractive to poachers.

THE booming illegal international wildlife trade has forced conservationists to do the unthinkable – brand the golden domes of two of the rarest tortoises on Earth to reduce their black market value by making it easier for authorities to trace them if stolen.

“It’s heartbreaking that it’s come to this, but it’s the right thing to do,” Paul Gibbons, managing director of the non-profit Turtle Conservancy’s Behler Chelonian Center in Ventura County, Los Angeles, said as he gently placed a 13.5kg adult female ploughshare tortoise on a small table.

With a steady hand and an electric engraving tool, he carved an identification code on the high, rounded shell as the creature with weary eyes and gleaming carapace peered calmly into the distance. The tortoise was branded for life, which in her case would be roughly 160 years.

“We’ve blemished her natural beauty, so she’s just a number in a system now,” Gibbons said. “No 7001 MG.” The 5cm by 4cm block figures were placed at the top of the turtle’s back, a location chosen to avoid interfering with the expansion of the shell, which grows at the edges.

A tortoise sports a defaced shell at the Turtle Conservancy's Behler Chelonian Center in Los Angeles on January 14, 2014. The shells are defaced to reduce their value on the black market, and the permanent marking also makes it easier for law enforcement authorities to trace them. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Scarred for life: A tortoise sports a defaced shell at the Turtle Conservancy’s Behler Chelonian Center in Los Angeles. The shells are defaced to reduce their value on the black market, and the permanent marking also makes it easier for law enforcement authorities to trace them. – MCT

The conservancy’s goal is to mark every one of the estimated 360 ploughshares in captive breeding programmes around the world and the 300 believed to be remaining in the wild.

So far, no rare tortoise or turtle with identification markings has turned up in illegal markets monitored by law enforcement authorities, conservationists said.

Decades of intense collecting, hunting and habitat destruction have brought that species and dozens of others to the brink of extinction. Now, sanctuaries and zoos are using visible identification marks – shell notches, clipped toenails, paint, laser inscribing, tattoos and engraving – as a tool to fight poaching and dissuade wealthy collectors willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars for critically endangered turtles and tortoises.

The shells of two confiscated ploughshare tortoises were engraved at the Singapore Zoo in December. In October, the Turtle Conservancy helped mark the shells of 150 Burmese star tortoises in Myanmar.

Keeping rare turtles and tortoises safe, however, will require a level of security that at this point is elusive at best. A week ago, Indonesian officials at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta rescued more than 8,000 baby pig-nosed turtles hidden in suitcases and believed headed for China and Singapore. In December, Royal Thai Customs officials confiscated a suitcase containing 62 rare radiated tortoises at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport.

In November, authorities in a Thai airport discovered 432 protected tortoises and 52 black pond turtles worth about US$110,000 (RM341,000) in unclaimed luggage arriving from Bangladesh. In March, authorities seized 54 ploughshare tortoises found in the suitcases of two individuals attempting to enter Thailand. Golden coin turtles have been selling for thousands of dollars each since poachers recently started claiming that consuming extracts from the species could cure cancer.

The two ploughshare tortoises marked recently were flown in from Taiwan, where they were seized in 2008. The female now known as No 7001 MG was successfully mated last year with the only male ploughshare tortoise of breeding age outside Madagascar. Five eggs she laid in November are being incubated. They are the first ploughshare tortoise eggs produced in an international conservation programme.

Paul Gibbons, left, with assistance from Armando Jimenez on January 14, 2014, uses a drill tool to deface the golden domes of two Plaughshare tortoises in Los Angeles. The shells are defaced to reduce their value on the black market, and the permanent marking also makes it easier for law enforcement authorities to trace them. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Paul Gibbons (left), managing director and veterinarian of the Behler Chelonian Center, with assistance from Armando Jimenez, uses a drill tool to deface the golden dome of a ploughshare tortoise.

“We still aren’t sure they are fertile,” Gibbons said. As the rarest tortoise on Earth, the ploughshare is highly valued by global animal traffickers and fetches tens of thousands of dollars on the Asian black market, conservationists say. The same could be said for most of the cold-blooded animals at the conservancy, a secret compound of paddocks and aquariums protected by surveillance cameras and electric wire in the foothills of Los Padres National Forest.

Although certified by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, the conservancy is not open to the public or listed in the phone book. The only visitors are turtle biologists from around the world. Its primary mission is to maintain colonies of threatened and endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles, such as two Sulawesi turtles from Indonesia confiscated at Los Angeles International Airport last February. Then there is Daphne, a 40-year-old female giant Galapagos tortoise looking for a mate.

As collection manager for the conservancy, it is Christine Light’s job to pamper egg clutches until they hatch and babies until they are old enough to fend for themselves. “This little fella hatched on Monday,” Light said, holding up an Indian spotted turtle about the size of a 50-cent piece.

“Too cute for words, right? Last year, we had 294 hatchlings from 13 species,” she added with a smile. “Each one of those hatchlings was a little win for our side.” – Los Angeles Times/McClatchy Tribune Information Services

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Posted by on in Sports

Myanmar's Asean opportunity

FOR the first time, Myanmar will lead Asean  this year. The country will also host the 2014 Asean summit, in addition to over 240 regional meetings, drawing thousands of diplomats, leaders and journalists to the country throughout the year.

2014 is also an important year for Asean as it is the penultimate year before the inauguration of an integrated Asean Economic Community next year.

What are the challenges and opportunities facing the country, and Asean, as Myanmar assumes this critical role?

The most obvious test for Naypyidaw is its infrastructural deficit: unreliable power supply; limited Internet connectivity; chronic shortages of hotels; and poor transportation linkages are some of the problems that continue to plague Myanmar.

The Sea Games that Myanmar hosted last year were an early test of its capabilities. While it performed creditably on safety and security, it was found lacking in others -- lack of accommodation and poor transportation were common complaints.

Notably, the Sports Ministry resorted to using power generators to supply electricity during the games because it did not trust its own power network.

Questions also remain as to whether it has the soft infrastructure and capacity to manage its chairmanship.

Myanmar scholars note that managing the Asean chairmanship will impose extra burdens on a narrow cohort of able people managing the reform process, but who are greatly overworked.

To that extent, the chairmanship could be an unwelcome distraction.

Secondly, as China continues to be more assertive in the South China Sea, President Thein Sein would need to deftly manage Asean-China relations.

The recent decision by Beijing to issue new fishing regulations requiring foreign vessels to seek prior permission to fish or survey in disputed waters in the waters has already drawn rebukes from Vietnam, Philippines, Japan and the United States.

The need for Asean unity has never been stronger, especially with the goal of an Asean Economic Community (AEC) near. It would do well to display independent-minded leadership while ensuring Asean solidarity.

Thirdly, the plight of the Rohingya and Myanmar's human rights record will come under increased international scrutiny as Myanmar plays host to the region and the world.

In 2006, Myanmar gave up its chairmanship under pressure from Asean and the US owing to its appalling human rights record and its oppressive political regime.

If Myanmar does not deal with its internal religious-ethnic conflict comprehensively, there is a risk that Myanmar's chairmanship will be overshadowed by its human rights failings.

Economically and politically, Myanmar has made great strides in opening up while its assumption of the chairmanship will allow Naypyidaw to open up further to the outside world. The Myanmar government has affirmed its readiness to benefit from the experience of previous chairs and others in Asean.

For example, its Foreign Affairs Ministry has asked a Singapore think tank for advice on its Asean chairmanship role.

Its willingness to learn, coupled with the inflow of people, ideas and practices that comes with the chairmanship will further socialise Myanmar into developing sets of best practices, enabling it to build up its educational, socio-political, diplomatic, bureaucratic and human resource nous as it grapples with its role as an actor on the world stage.

Secondly, Myanmar also happens to be the coordinator of the Asean-US dialogue. This gives Myanmar the unique opportunity to elevate its relations with the US and benefit from the immense rewards that can be reaped from a deeper relationship.

Investments by American businesses hit US$243 million (RM813 million) as of August last year, according to the Myanmar Investment Commission. But this sum is paltry compared with the US$43 billion in total foreign direct investment in the same period.

Increased investment from the US will diversify Myanmar's economy making it more resilient, reduce reliance on Chinese investments, thus making it more geopolitically balanced and attracting further investments from the western countries that still take the lead from the US.

Thirdly, being the chair of Asean, and with national elections looming next year, there is strong political impetus to push through urgently-needed reforms in several areas. It has made some progress in this regard.

For instance, during the Sea Games in Myanmar, high-speed 4G mobile Internet network was installed, albeit only for the media and VIPs, in various venues in a relatively short period of time. A

Myanmar's chairmanship will be closely watched by Southeast Asian neighbours for it is a momentous year not only for Naypyidaw but for Asean as well.

Myanmar has the backing and the support of its fellow Asean members to pull off a successful chairmanship.

It would be in the interest of Myanmar and Asean to grab this opportunity to open up more quickly domestically and integrate further with the international community.

Dylan Loh Ming Hui  is a research analyst at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.

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The Sea Games that Myanmar hosted last year were an early test of its capabilities.

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Third football academy in Myanmar to be completed this year

YANGON-The Myanmar Football Federation (MFF) is now building its third football academy near Thuwunna Sports ground in Yangon, with plans to complete the academy this year.

The MFF had constructed the Mandalay Football Academy in 2010 and the Pathein Football Academy in 2012 under the sponsorship of FIFA.

Now, MFF will build the Yangon Football Academy with the assistance of FIFA's Goal Project-5 programme. The MFF president will cover the construction costs.

The two football grounds are to be made with artificial lawns now being constructed by the Ayeyawady Foundation. The aim is to train not only athletes from the Football Academy and selected football teams but also Myanmar National League athletes.

Construction tasks for the football grounds will be completed in March.

The MFF has already laid down long-term projects to open football academies in respective states and regions.

The MFF is also holding youth football competitions again, with the aim of raising Myanmar football standards. The MFF is holding youth football training courses and constructing football academies in the hope of developing more young talent.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014
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