Category Archives: Burma (Myanmar)

Myanmar’s military investigates a ‘war crime’ in an era of reform

Andrew R.C. Marshall and Wa Lone report for Reuters:

It is extremely rare in Myanmar for soldiers to be held accountable for alleged abuses, or for such allegations to be investigated transparently, rights groups such as Amnesty International say.

The military’s response this time suggests a heightened sensitivity about its image as it tries to present itself as a responsible partner in Myanmar’s democratic transition and seeks closer ties with its Western counterparts.

Myanmar was a military dictatorship for nearly half a century until a quasi-civilian government of former generals replaced the junta in 2011 and launched a series of political and economic reforms.

Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was swept into office in April after winning a landslide election last year, but the military still holds immense power.



Myanmar Military Still Big Power Despite Opposition Victory

Thomas Fuller reports for The New York Times:

Amid the mold-covered facades of downtown Yangon are police stations, a five-story building housing the Special Branch state security agency and government offices where citizens are required to register out-of-town houseguests.

They are all vestiges of a police state in Myanmar that has yet to be fully dismantled. And all these government offices will be outside the control of a new administration led by the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace laureate whose organization achieved an apparently lopsided triumph in landmark elections held Sunday.

With official vote tallies seeming to confirm the scope of the victory, Myanmar is electrified by the prospect that the long-suffering democracy movement will wrest control of Parliament and the executive branch from a military establishment that has governed in one way or another for the past five decades.

Yet under the terms of the Constitution drawn up by the generals, a large and powerful part of the bureaucracy will remain under the direct control of the military, with powers including issuing passports and running a domestic security apparatus that spies on Myanmar citizens.

Thant Myint-U, a historian who has advised the government, called the victory for the opposition a “crushing win.” But he cautioned that Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi would be forced into a fragile power-sharing arrangement with the military, which kept her under house arrest for the better part of two decades.

“This was not an election of a government,” Mr. Thant Myint-U said. “It was an election for a spot in a shared government with the army.”


Myanmar’s Suu Kyi vows to call shots after election landslide

Aung Hla Tun and Aubrey Belford report for Reuters:

Myanmar democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi made it clear on Tuesday she was ready to defy attempts by the country’s powerful military to clip her wings, as fresh results from Sunday’s historic election showed her party heading for a resounding win.

As vote tallies trickled in, Suu Kyi’s long-oppressed National League for Democracy (NLD) looked set to take control of most regional assemblies as well as forming the central government, a triumph that will reshape the political landscape.

Under the constitution drawn up by Myanmar’s former junta, Suu Kyi is barred by the constitution from taking the presidency because her children are foreign nationals, a clause few doubt was inserted specifically to rule her out.

But in two interviews on Tuesday, the Nobel peace laureate said that regardless of who was appointed president by the newly elected houses of parliament, she would call the shots.

She told the BBC she would be “making all the decisions as the leader of the winning party” and Channel News Asia that the next president would have “no authority”.

The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which was created by the junta and is led by retired soldiers, has conceded defeat in a poll that was a milestone on Myanmar’s rocky path from dictatorship to democracy.


‘Strong evidence’ of genocide in Myanmar

Al Jazeera reports:

Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit has uncovered what amounts to “strong evidence” of a genocide coordinated by the Myanmar government against the Rohingya people, according to an assessment by Yale University Law School.

The Lowenstein Clinic spent eight months assessing evidence from Myanmar, including documents and testimony provided by Al Jazeera and the advocacy group Fortify Rights.

“Given the scale of the atrocities and the way that politicians talk about the Rohingya, we think it’s hard to avoid a conclusion that intent [to commit genocide] is present,” concluded the clinic.


10 Most Censored Countries

Committee to Protect Journalists published a preview of their annual Attacks on the Press report, which released on Monday, 27 April:

Eritrea and North Korea are the first and second most censored countries worldwide, according to a list compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists of the 10 countries where the press is most restricted. The list is based on research into the use of tactics ranging from imprisonment and repressive laws to harassment of journalists and restrictions on Internet access.

In Eritrea, President Isaias Afewerki has succeeded in his campaign to crush independent journalism, creating a media climate so oppressive that even reporters for state-run news outlets live in constant fear of arrest. The threat of imprisonment has led many journalists to choose exile rather than risk arrest. Eritrea is Africa’s worst jailer of journalists, with at least 23 behind bars-none of whom has been tried in court or even charged with a crime.

Fearing the spread of Arab Spring uprisings, Eritrea scrapped plans in 2011 to provide mobile Internet for its citizens, limiting the possibility of access to independent information. Although Internet is available, it is through slow dial-up connections, and fewer than 1 percent of the population goes online, according to U.N. International Telecommunication Union figures. Eritrea also has the lowest figure globally of cell phone users, with just 5.6 percent of the population owning one.

In North Korea, 9.7 percent of the population has cell phones, a number that excludes access to phones smuggled in from China. In place of the global Internet, to which only a select few powerful individuals have access, some schools and other institutions have access to a tightly controlled intranet. And despite the arrival of an Associated Press bureau in Pyongyang in 2012, the state has such a tight grip on the news agenda that newsreel was re-edited to remove Kim Jong Un’s disgraced uncle from the archives after his execution.

The tactics used by Eritrea and North Korea are mirrored to varying degrees in other heavily censored countries. To keep their grip on power, repressive regimes use a combination of media monopoly, harassment, spying, threats of journalist imprisonment, and restriction of journalists’ entry into or movements within their countries.’


Myanmar: With Suu Kyi blocked, her party eyes ex-general for president

Paul Mooney reports for Reuters:

‘Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) will go into next year’s parliamentary election in Myanmar with no candidate for president and might even support a former general from the pro-military ruling party, NLD officials said. Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi, 69, is barred by the constitution from becoming president and is apparently unwilling to give her blessing to an alternative candidate from within her own party.

One senior member of Suu Kyi’s party said it might give its backing for Shwe Mann, speaker of parliament and chairman of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), to be put forward for the presidency. The USDP is made up of former military officers. But that would risk angering many rank-and-file NLD members, including many who were imprisoned by the military. It could risk undermining support for the country’s most popular party and its leader.’


Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi calls for international help in bid to become president

From ABC Australia:

‘Myanmar’s opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has called for international help in her campaign to become president. Ms Suu Kyi is barred from running for president in next year’s elections in Myanmar under the constitution, drafted by the military six years ago. A parliamentary committee last week voted not to change the constitutional clause, which effectively bars Ms Suu Kyi from the post of president. It has been reported that the vote was 26 to five.

“I do believe the Constitution was written with me in mind. That is a huge compliment. It is however unacceptable, democratically speaking, that one person should be targeted by the Constitution,” Ms Suu Kyi said on Monday. The 2008 constitution blocks anyone from leading the country if their spouse or children are overseas citizens. It is widely believed the clause is targeted at the Nobel laureate whose late husband, Michael Aris, and two sons are British-born. Myanmar’s charter also reserves a quarter of seats in parliament for unelected military personnel.’


Slave ships & supermarkets: Modern day slavery in Thailand

‘Slavery is back. Modern day slave ships have been used to provide feed for prawns supplied to some of the world’s biggest supermarkets, including: Tesco, Aldi, Walmart and Morrisons. A six-month Guardian multimedia investigation has, for the first time, tracked how these supermarkets use suppliers relying on slave labour to put cheap prawns on their shelves.’ (The Guardian)

Documents ‘show Myanmar Rohingya discrimination is policy’

File photo: a Muslim boy looks through a barbed wire fence on the border of Myanmar and Bangladesh in Maungdaw, Rakhine state, Myanmar, 11 September 2013From BBC News:

A rights group says it has evidence of Myanmar’s government discriminating against Muslim Rohingya, restricting their movements and family size. Fortify Rights said that the government’s orders, shown in leaked documents, amounted to “state policies of persecution” in Rakhine state.

There was no immediate response to the report from the Burmese authorities. The government of Myanmar, also known as Burma, views the Rohingya as foreign migrants, not citizens.

There is widespread public hostility towards the Rohingya in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. The Rohingya, on the other hand, feel they are part of Myanmar and claim persecution by the state. The UN has described the Rohingya as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.


US says military engagement key for Myanmar reform

Matthew Pennington reports for AP:

The appointee to become the top U.S. defense official for Asia said Tuesday engagement with the Myanmar military is crucial for democratic reform in the Southeast Asian nation. David Shear said in congressional testimony that without support from Myanmar’s military, the transition to democracy “will likely falter.” But State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki also said Tuesday the U.S. is not considering resumption of arms sales that were stopped after a bloody military crackdown on democracy protesters in 1988.

“The U.S is not considering lifting the arms embargo on Myanmar,” she told reporters. The United States and other Western nations have rapidly eased economic and political sanctions against the nation known as Burma as its government has initiated reforms after five decades of military rule. The U.S. has retained stiff restrictions on military engagement, however, although it’s begun dialogue on human rights and military law, hoping to encourage reforms within the military itself.


Britain trains Burmese army despite rape, rights violations

From Asian Correspondent:

The British army provided training to Burmese armed forces personnel this month despite the Southeast Asian nation’s refusal to sign the UN Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI) and fresh reports of rape of ethnic women by Burmese soldiers.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague launched the PSVI initiative at the UN General Assembly on September 24. At the end of the conference Mr Hague proudly announced that that 115 countries had signed up to the PSVI. (As of October 2013, 134 countries had signed up.) Signatories included countries with appalling records of sexual violence, including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone. Burma, however, refused to sign up.

When President Thein Sein visited Britain last July the British Government offered to pay for the British Army to train 30 senior Burmese army officers, a deal that was also endorsed by Burmese opposition leader and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.


Big tobacco eyes Myanmar market

From Al Jazeera:

A smoky haze greets customers walking into any of Yangon’s tea shops as patrons light up hand-rolled cigarettes known locally as cheroots.

Elsewhere in Myanmar’s main city, vendors sell cheap cigarettes smuggled from China to drivers stopped at traffic lights. The pavement is painted red with the spit of people chewing tobacco wrapped in betel leaves.

Tobacco is already a problem in this impoverished Southeast Asian country where anti-tobacco legislation is weak. But as Myanmar opens its doors to the world after half a century of military rule, it faces a new threat: Large multinational cigarette companies looking for new markets.


No One Lives in Burma’s New Multibillion Pound Capital City

From VICE:

[…] On November the 6th, 2005 at exactly 6:37AM, Burma’s capital was moved from the cultural, historical and economic heartland of the country, Yangon, to a barren site 320 miles further north. Than Shwe, then despotic ruler of Burma, had been advised by his team of highly prominent astrologers that this was the most auspicious time for the transfer.

The initial rationale behind the move was equally confusing: Yangon, you see, is situated close to the southern coast, so of course Than Shwe feared an amphibious invasion. Naypyidaw, on the other hand, sits right in the centre of the country and has come to resemble one giant bunker built to defend against amphibious invasions, all envisioned in the paranoid mind of a totalitarian ruler. Which is probably because that’s exactly what it is.


US says Myanmar reforms ‘incomplete’ (and other news from Myanmar)

From AFP:

US Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that Myanmar’s dramatic political reforms were still “incomplete”, a day after the former military-ruled country released dozens more political prisoners.

“I think what is happening in Myanmar is very exciting, but it is incomplete,” Kerry said during a meeting with students in Brunei, where he was later set to meet Myanmar President Thein Sein at a regional summit.

“We have to see that the political transformation continues,” he added. “Our hope is that the democracy will continue to evolve,” Kerry added.

Myanmar on Tuesday freed around 56 political prisoners, following a vow from Thein Sein to release all “prisoners of conscience” by the end of the year.

Kerry will meet with the former general in Brunei to discuss the “next steps in ongoing political reforms in Myanmar,” a US State Department official said.



Britain to offer military training to Burma to help end ethnic conflicts ~ Telegraph

Britain to offer military training to Burma to help end ethnic conflicts: An ethnic Rakhine man holds homemade weapons as he stands in front of a house that was burnt during fighting between Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya communities in SittweThe Telegraph

Hugo Swire, the Foreign Office minister of state, told The Daily Telegraph that Britain was determined to take a leading role in helping Burma to develop a more democratic system and resolve ethnic tensions.

In particular the Foreign Office has sought to use its historic experience in the former colony to defuse tensions between the military-backed government and Rohingya Muslims.