YSX hits low in second week of 2018
Reuters reporters remain in custody
Rohingya return to Myanmar delayed
TMH Telecom starts trading on YSX
Russian Arms Deal- Russia will stand by a deal to sell military aircraft and provide technical cooperation to Myanmar’s military, Moscow said after the agreement drew criticism from the U.S. The Kremlin reaffirmed its commitment to the deal, which was signed on Jan. 20 during Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu’s visit to the country that will see Moscow sell six SU-30 fighter planes to the Tatmadaw. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert earlier urged Moscow to reconsider the agreement. In its response, Moscow said the sale of military equipment to Myanmar was aimed at helping the country boost its defense capability.
More NCA Issues - The Karen National Union agrees with its armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army, that the upcoming 21st Century Panglong Union Peace Conference should be postponed until differences over the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) between the government, Myanmar Army, and the ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) are resolved. KNU Secretary Padoh Saw Ta Doh Moo said that both the political and military branches of the Karen revolutionary group had agreed to this stand, as clarification of the security sector issues is needed before progress can be made in other areas. The concerns of the EAOs arose after a representative of the Myanmar Army, or Tatmadaw, said in a November joint review meeting that security sector re-integration was the same thing as the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process, an interpretation that the EAOs could not accept.
Kachin Parties Amalgamate - After five years of effort, three Kachin political parties agreed to merge recently to meet a desire among ethnic Kachin for a single, strong party. The Kachin Democratic Party (KDP), the Kachin State Democracy Party (KSDP), and the Kachin National Congress (KNC) agreed to the merger at a meeting of the Kachin Political Parties Coordination Committee in the Kachin State capital of Myitkyina. They finally managed it hoping that the 2020 general election will not see them repeat the poor showings they suffered in 2015. The decision to merge was to constitute a party that represents the Kachin State residents and to fulfill the Kachin people’s desire. People were confused by the array of Kachin parties in 2015, causing all of them to lose votes. The KDP chairman said the three-party leaders will chose a name, logo and emblem for the new party and let the public decide whether to adopt it on Feb. 20.
Bill Richardson Resignation - Veteran US diplomat Bill Richardson has resigned from an international panel set up by Myanmar to advise on the Rohingya crisis, saying it was conducting a “whitewash”, accusing the country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi of lacking “moral leadership.” Richardson, a former Clinton administration cabinet member, quit as the 10-member advisory board was making its first visit to western Rakhine State, from where nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled in recent months. “The main reason I am resigning is that this advisory board is a whitewash,” said, adding he did not want to be part of “a cheerleading squad for the government.” Richardson said he got into an argument with Suu Kyi during a meeting with other members of the board, when he brought up the case of two Reuters reporters who are on trial accused of breaching the country’s Officials Secrets Act. He said Suu Kyi’s response was “furious,” saying the case of the reporters “was not part of the work of the advisory board.” The argument continued at a dinner later that evening, the former New Mexico governor said. “She’s not getting good advice from her team,” Richardson said of Suu Kyi, whom he said he has known since the 1980s. “I like her enormously and respect her. But she has not shown moral leadership on the Rakhine issue and the allegations made, and I regret that.”
Bus Stop Advertising - A French-Myanmar joint venture, FMIDecaux, a joint venture between First Myanmar Investment Company (FMI) and JCDecaux, has won an exclusive 20-year contract to sell advertising on street fixtures in the commercial capital Yangon, including the installation of 500 hi-tech bus stops. In a press release, JCDecaux announced that under the new contract, the joint venture will design and install 500 new bus stops featuring advertising displays and city information panels (CIPs). The bus stops will be equipped with USB ports. LED screens on the roof will show buses’ estimated time of arrival. All 500 new bus stops will be finished in three years. FMIDecaux’s winning bid proposes total investment of US$13 million in the project, including operation and maintenance of new bus stops and CIPs.
Rice Focus - Rice exports are expected to increase in 2018 on the back of demand from China, the largest importer of Myanmar rice, as well as other countries like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, traders say. Rice exports are at their highest level in 60 years. Since the start of the 2017-18 fiscal year on April 1, 2017 up until January 5, Myanmar exported more than 2.6 million tonnes of rice. By the end of the fiscal year on March 31, total exports are expected to reach 3 million tonnes, backed by China and new demand from Bangladesh, which has committed to importing a million tonnes of Myanmar rice this year. Local consumption has also been on the rise, with the rice prices up by K10,000 per 50 kilograms compared to K2,000 in the export market. Myanmar currently produces 13 million tonnes of rice, around 60 percent of which is consumed locally. Meanwhile, more farmers are entering the rice production business since the pulse and bean sector collapsed. “Rice is the most important export crop, so the government should play a greater role in supporting an effective and efficient market for the trade,” said Tin Hlaing Win, chairman for the Paddy Producing and Distribution Association in Mandalay.
IFC Not Listening - Action for Shan State Rivers (ASSR) said recently that locals were disappointed by a meeting of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) concerning the controversial hydropower projects on the Salween River in Shan State. “Despite disagreements, the IFC held a stakeholder discussion in Taunggyi on Monday, without representatives of impacted locals or local civil society organizations (CSOs) present,” said Sai Khur Hseng, an ASSR spokesperson. The ASSR said the discussion was part of a series of meetings to finalize a countrywide strategic environmental assessment (SEA) for hydropower development projects on the Salween River, including Naung Pha dam, which alarms the locals. The Naung Pha dam, located between Lashio and Hopong townships, is like other planned hydropower dams in the region, an armed conflict zone. “Locals, including us, and many other local CSOs, have been against the hydropower projects and the dam building on the Salween River for many years. We were angered and saddened by the ignorance of responsible organizations like the IFC,” said Sai Khur Hseng. Six large hydropower dams are planned to be built along the river in Shan, Karenni and Karen states, which would collectively generate 10,000 megawatts of electricity. Most of the electricity produced from these hydropower dams will be exported to neighboring countries, mainly China. The locals have been against hydropower development on Salween River for many years, urging for transparency, and concern for natural disasters, as well as environmental and social impact.
Dawei - The Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ) will be developed in full to accelerate its completion after a five-year delay. A public forum was held in Dawei SEZ area for the purposes of sharing information and discussing action plans by the management committee and Italian-Thai Development company(ITD), the developer selected to construct the initial phase of the SEZ, recently. The government has been exploring ways to restart development of Dawei SEZ, which has been suspended since 2013, when ITD withdrew from the agreement to develop the $8 billion SEZ due to financial constraints. There were also community complaints regarding lack of adequate compensation for the construction and potential pollution and disruption caused. ITD resigned the concession agreement in 2015. Currently, Japan International Cooperation Agency is drawing up a full phase master plan for Dawei SEZ. The plan will be finalised and submitted to the relevant SEZ authorities in April. Full phase implementation will commence in tandem with development of the initial phase of the SEZ, which involves the construction of roads and a port as well as electricity generation, said Myint San, Vice President of Dawei SEZ. “There were many complications in terms of agreement with the previous government and land compensation issues to be tackled with the initial phase developer ITD. So, we can’t wait for the initial phase to be finished to start the full phase. We have to develop both phases together,” he said. Aye Min, President of Dawei Nationalities Party said while it is a good sign that the project will be restarting after the long pause, the SEZ has to be developed with least possible negative impact to the community. “The restart must avoid the mistakes initiated under the previous government. Compensation must be fair. The suspension of the project was largely due to protests over unfair compensation,” he said. Two taskforces have already been formed to investigate restarting development of Dawei SEZ. One will focus on problems encountered with ITD for the initial phase, while the second task force will focus on upgrading an existing 150-kilometer road connecting the SEZ to Htee Khee. At $8 billion, Dawei SEZ will be one of the biggest mega-projects in Southeast Asia once complete. Development of the initial phase alone would cost more than $1 billion. The Dawei SEZ project is one of three SEZ projects in Myanmar. Currently, Thilawa SEZ in southern Yangon is the only one in operation while Kyaukphyu SEZ in Rakhine has stalled due to a deadlock in stakeholder negotiations between China’s CITIC-led consortium and the Myanmar government.
Culture and Tourism
Flower Power - The Chin State government is planning to revive Buran trees (Rhododendron arboreum), the state flower of Chin State, to promote tourism in the region. Burans are small evergreen trees with bright red flowers. The Chin State government and locals say the number of these trees in the area has declined due to negligence and deforestation. “They have been neglected for many years. There isn’t a culture of valuing these trees and locals have cut them down for wood and their flowers for many years,” said Salai Isaac Khen, the state minister of municipal works, electricity and industry. The minister said the Chin hills were once covered with Buran trees, especially in the Kanpetlet, Tedim, Mindat and Falam regions. When the Buran flowers blossom, the Chin hills become picturesque, attracting visitors. Since the Burans are unique to this region in Myanmar, visitors flood Chin State from November until March, especially Mt. Victoria in Kanpetlet Township, to see the flowers, birds and butterflies.
Mrauk-U - A work coordination meeting on the nomination of Mrauk-U to the UNESCO World Heritage List scheduled to be held from Jan. 26–27 has been postponed following protests in the old Arakanese capital. Hundreds of Mrauk-U residents took to the streets to protest the government’s ban on celebrating the 233rd anniversary of the fall of the Rakhine Dynasty. The government said it had banned the annual event because the venue was a former palace that had been listed as a national heritage site. Seven residents were killed, and 12 others were injured during the police crackdown on protestors. “We sent invitations to the meeting. But, it is now difficult to come to the town because of security concerns. The meeting will likely be held in Yangon instead, but that has not yet been officially confirmed,” said Khin Than, chairwoman of the Mrauk-U cultural heritage conservation group. The draft nomination to include Mrauk-U as a World Heritage Site is set to be submitted in September with the final submission to be delivered by January 2019, according to Khin Than. “The image of Mrauk-U is severely damaged by the incident]. We have been trying to enhance its image to get UNESCO’s recognition. While we are trying every means to make the world know Mrauk-U and there is certain progress toward this end, this incident has exerted serious impact,” she said.
She hopes that adding Mrauk-U to the UNESCO World Heritage List will help solve the sectarian divide in Rakhine State to some extent. UNESCO officials started their survey of the old Arakanese capital in February last year. Mrauk-U is located on the Kaladan River in northern Rakhine State, some 60 kilometers inland from the state capital Sittwe. From the 15th century to the late 1800s, Mrauk-U was the seat of Arakanese kings, who at the height of their power controlled an area covering large parts of eastern Bengal, modern-day Rakhine State and the western part of Lower Myanmar. Much of the city’s remains are well preserved and some 380 historic temples are scattered among the hills of northern Rakhine. Internal violence between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims that erupted in mid-2012 has driven down tourist numbers.