Aung San Suu Kyi says UN probe would increase Rakhine tensions
Burmese military plane crashes killing all on board
Rakhine protesters demand UN protect Buddhist Chakma in Bangladesh
MIL raises US$6.3M for new investments in 2017
Military Arrests Reporters - Three Myanmar reporters detained at an undisclosed location by the army will be charged under a colonial-era statute against “unlawful association” and risk up to three years in jail. The military arrested the journalists in Shan State after they covered a drug-burning event organized by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), an ethnic armed group designated as an “unlawful association” by the Yangon authorities. The reporters are from the Democratic Voice of Myanmar (DVB) and The Irrawaddy. The arrests have alarmed Myanmar’s media community, increasing fears that freedom of speech has become increasingly restricted since the government of Aung San Suu Kyi took power last year. “Everyone should be treated according to the law,” Aung San Suu Kyi’s spokesman Zaw Htay said. He added that the military told him it planned to charge the reporters under the Unlawful Association Act. A military source confirmed this. Despite pressure from human rights bodies and the West, Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has retained loosely worded security laws dating to British colonial rule, which ended in 1948, and decried by monitors as violating free speech. The Unlawful Association Act has long been used by the authorities to arbitrarily arrest and detain people in Myanmar, in particular people in ethnic and religious minority areas, according to human rights watchdog Amnesty International, which has called on the government to release the journalists. Western governments have also expressed their concern over the incident. The editors from the publications where the reporters work said that they had tried obtaining explanations from the military and the government, but to no avail.
Blacklisted - The government has blacklisted influential figure Harn Yawnghwe, allegedly for his involvement in the country’s peace process, denying him a visa extension. Harn Yawnghwe, who holds a Canadian passport, is the executive director of the Brussels-based Euro-Myanmar Office (EBO), an organization that provides funding to ethnic and civil society organizations. Harn Yawnghwe is an ethnic Shan from Myanmar who has played a major role supporting and advising ethnic armed organizations both in exile and inside the country for decades. Due to his influential role in ethnic affairs, critics claim his involvement is controversial. Some criticize him for dividing the unity of ethnic armed groups. The EBO has been one of the main donors to Myanmar’s democracy movement. In 2011, it was permitted to open a branch office in the country. Harn Yawnghwe is also the son of Myanmar’s first President Sao Shwe Thaike.
Put More Women In The Labour Force - Myanmar needs to realize the potential of women and enable their entry into the labour market in order to generate economic growth driven by a “gender dividend,” the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said recently. The UN said the conclusion was based on the findings from a series of 14 papers from the 2014 Myanmar Population and Housing Census Thematic Report, which examines the total labour force participation rate of both men and women. The department of population completed the Thematic Report on the Labour Force—the seventh paper out of 14—in June. Although men and women make up almost an equal ratio of Myanmar’s population, according to the census data, just 50.5 percent of women are working, compared with 85.6 percent of men. In January the UNFPA released findings that one million new jobs were needed to ensure employment for Myanmar’s young population over the next four years. The UN agency said youth unemployment in Myanmar contributes to the low labour force, and the causes are linked to socioeconomic status and education. In Myanmar, from age 19, joblessness is the highest within the richest fifth of the country’s population. People with graduate diplomas have the highest unemployment rate, almost five times greater than those with no education. One in four people aged 15-24 are not engaged in education, employment or training, a figure which is more than double for young women than for young men. However, those in then skilled labour sector, numbering almost 12 million, are underqualified for the work they perform, according to official census report. Myanmar’s labour force is amongst the lowest in ASEAN, according to the UNFPA. Only 63.6 percent of the population is economically active, compared to 80.9 percent in Cambodia and 77.4 percent in Laos.
Those US Sanctions - The US Department of the Treasury removed sanctions regulations against Myanmar from the code of federal regulations on June 16 in a final move by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to conclude actions taken by the Obama administration in October last year. However, US financial institutions must still undertake enhanced due diligence when processing financial transactions involving Myanmar because it remains a “jurisdiction of primary money laundering concern” pursuant to section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act. Myanmar businesspersons were removed from the Specially Designated Nationals list last October but Americans doing business in Myanmar should continue to screen counterparties because they could be designated under other sanctions regimes such as North Korea and narcotics trafficking. Under America’s Jade Act, a non-disclosed list of Myanmar military officials and “any other Burmese persons who provide substantial economic and political support” to the military are still subject to a visa ban, and the US Department of State’s Directorate of Defense Controls continues to maintain a policy to deny exports of defense articles and services to Myanmar. Americans are still “encouraged to remain vigilant when conducting legal business with and in Myanmar due to remaining concerns about corruption, money laundering, and informal banking practices.” Nevertheless, the latest removal of regulations “represents another step in the improving US-Myanmar relations, recognizing Myanmar’s democratic advancement, and welcoming it back into the community of nations.”
Kargo - Yangon-based logistics startup Kargo won the Myanmar leg of a global competition for early startups recently. The competition was organized by Seedstars World, a Swiss operation that promotes start-ups in emerging markets. Kargo will head to Switzerland in April next year to compete with other startups from around 80 countries for a chance to receive up to $1 million in equity investment. The Yangon firm also received a six-digit investment a month ago from Singapore-based venture capital firm Vulpes Investment Management. Eight startups from Myanmar participated in the pitching session for Seedstars World in Yangon, including agri-mobile app Greenovator; healthcare service Doctor On Call; Agtrade, a market-matching platform for farmers, brokers and traders and Amyanpoh, a delivery solution for e-commerce. Kargo operates a fleet of independent truck drivers and companies for on-demand delivery around the country, with services offered in Yangon, Mandalay, Taunggyi, Pathein, Pyay and Lashio. Seedstars World works closely with Omidyar Network, AYA Bank, Ooredoo and others in Myanmar.
Closed Bank Accounts - Myanmar authorities are leading negotiations to reopen 336 accounts belonging to Myanmar nationals frozen by banks in Yunnan Province, China. Government representatives in Muse have sent documents proving the legitimacy of account holders to the banks in question and the local Chinese government. At a meeting of bank officials and representatives from China and Myanmar in the Chinese border town of Ruili, Myanmar authorities told bank officials that accounts belonged to Myanmar traders who were not involved in money laundering, gambling or trafficking. Chinese banks have so far reportedly closed 5,000 accounts supposedly linked to illegal activity in Yunnan Province, with more than 100 bank accounts owned by Myanmar nationals frozen by the Agricultural Bank of China. The Postal Savings Bank of China and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China also reportedly froze accounts. The Chinese Embassy in Yangon said that Chinese banks had frozen accounts in Myanmar border areas, including those belonging to Myanmar border traders in an effort to crackdown on crime and illegal trade but promised to unfreeze legitimate merchant accounts and protect longtime stability with Myanmar.
Infrastructure Chinese Style - Days before the first supertanker carrying 140,000 tons of Chinese-bound crude oil arrived in Myanmar’s Kyaukphyu port, local officials confiscated Nyein Aye’s fishing nets. The fisherman was among hundreds banned from fishing a stretch of water near the entry point for a pipeline that pumps oil 770 kilometers across Myanmar to southwest China which forms a crucial part of Beijing’s “Belt and Road” project to deepen its economic links with Asia and beyond.
“How can we make a living if we’re not allowed to catch fish?” said Nyein Aye, who bought a bigger boat just four months ago but now says his income has dropped by two-thirds due to a decreased catch resulting from restrictions on when and where he can fish. Last month he joined more than 100 people in a protest demanding compensation from pipeline operator Petrochina. The pipeline is part of the US$10 billion Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone, a scheme at the heart of Myanmar-China relations and whose success is crucial for Aung San Suu Kyi.
Embattled Aung San Suu Kyi needs a big economic win to stem criticism that her first year in office has seen little progress on reform. China’s support is also key to stabilizing their shared border, where a spike in fighting with ethnic armed groups threatens the peace process which she says is her top priority.
China’s state-run CITIC Group, the main developer of the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone, says it will create 100,000 jobs in the northwestern state of Arakan, one of Myanmar’s poorest regions but many local people say the project is being rushed through without consultation or regard for their way of life. Suspicion of China runs deep in Myanmar, and public hostility due to environmental and other concerns has delayed or derailed Chinese mega-projects in the country in the past. China says the Kyaukphyu development is based on “win-win” co-operation between the two countries.
Since Beijing signaled it may abandon the huge Myitsone Dam hydroelectric project in Myanmar earlier this year, it has pushed for concessions on other strategic undertakings, including the Bay of Bengal port at Kyaukphyu which gives it an alternative route for energy imports from the Middle East.
The Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone will cover more than 17 sq kilometers. It includes the $7.3 billion deep sea port and a $2.3 billion industrial park, with plans to attract industries such as textiles and oil refining. Census data suggests 20,000 villagers, most of whom now depend on agriculture and fishing, are at risk of being relocated to make way for the project.
“There will be a huge project in the zone and many buildings will be built, so people who live in the area will be relocated,” said Than Htut Oo, administrator of Kyaukphyu, who also sits on the management committee of the economic zone. He said the government has not publicly announced the plan, because it didn’t want to “create panic” while it was still negotiating with the Chinese developer.
In April, Myanmar’s President Htin Kyaw signed two agreements on the pipeline and the Kyaukphyu port with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, as Beijing pushed to revive a project that had stalled since its inception in 2009. The agreements call for environmental and social assessments to be carried out as soon as possible.
While the studies are expected to take up to 15 months and have not yet started, CITIC has asked Myanmar to finalize contract terms by the end of this year so that the construction can start in 2018. Such a schedule has alarmed experts who fear the project is being rushed. “The environmental and social preparations for a project of these dimensions take years to complete and not months,” said Vicky Bowman, head of the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business and a former British ambassador to the country. CITIC says it will engage “a world-renowned consulting firm” to carry out assessments.
Although large-scale land demarcation for the project has not yet started, 26 families have been displaced from farmland due to acquisitions that took place in 2014 for the construction of two dams, according to land documents and the land owners. Experts say this violates Myanmar’s environmental laws. “Carrying out land acquisition before completing environmental impact assessments and resettlement plans is incompatible with national law,” said Sean Bain, Myanmar-based legal consultant for human rights watchdog International Commission of Jurists.
CITIC says it will build a vocational school to provide training for skills needed by companies in the economic zone. It has given $1.5 million to local villages to develop businesses. Chinese investors say they also plan to spend $1 million during the first five years of the development, and $500,000 per year thereafter to improve local living standards. But villagers in Kyaukphyu say they fear the project would not contribute to the development of the area because the operating companies employ mostly Chinese workers.
From more than 3,000 people living on the Maday island, the entry point for the oil pipeline, only 47 have landed a job with the Petrochina, while the number of Chinese workers stood at more than double that number, data from labour authorities has shown. Petrochina says that Myanmar citizens make up 72 percent of its workforce in the country overall and it would continue to hire locally.
“I don’t think there’s hope for me to get a job at the zone,” says Nyein Aye. He has been turned down 12 times for job applications with the pipeline operator. “Chinese companies said they would develop our village and improve our livelihoods, but it turned out we are suffering every day.”
Culture and Tourism
Goldleaf Problem - Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, a sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site and a major tourist destination also known as Golden Rock, will remain a protected zone and won’t be designated a cultural heritage zone in the near future due to culture ministry regulations. The Ministry of Culture has designated areas as cultural heritage zones to conserve national heritage by introducing regulations such as restricting construction in the area. It would be difficult for the pagoda board of trustees, locals, and business people to follow those regulations, said Mon State social affairs minister Dr. Htein Lin. “If the pagoda is designated as a cultural heritage zone, then gold foils are not allowed to be affixed to the pagoda, and repairs can’t be made without the approval of the culture ministry,” said Dr. Htein Lin. The pagoda board of trustees carries out general maintenance works including complete gilding of the pagoda every three years. But, according to cultural heritage zone regulations, repairs of ancient pagodas need culture ministry approval. “There are penalties for violations of those regulations. So, it is better to apply when we are in a position to abide to those regulations, otherwise we will be frequently penalized,” he said. “It is easy to be designated as a cultural heritage zone, but it is difficult to follow the regulations,” he added, saying that the pagoda is currently designated as a protected zone. Sein Myint, a trustee of the pagoda, said it is more appropriate to conserve the pagoda as a protected zone as Kyaiktiyo Pagoda is the only ancient monument left on Mt. Kyaiktiyo. “My personal view is that so many restrictions are not acceptable. Currently there is only one ancient monument left here, Kyaiktiyo Pagoda. The others have all been ruined. The old ordination hall was ruined, there is nothing ancient now,” said the trustee. He suggested focusing on protecting Kyaiktiyo forest reserve rather than designating the rock as a cultural heritage zone. Known as Golden Rock by the international community, Kyaiktiyo Pagoda lies in Kyaiktiyo forest reserve, which covers 38,606 acres of land managed by Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation.
More UNESCO Sites Planned - The minister of religious affairs and culture, Aung Ko, said his ministry plans to nominate Mrauk U and Shwedagon Pagoda for UNESCO’s list of culturally significant sites after Bagan. Since 2016, countries have been limited to one UNESCO nomination per year so the ministry chose Bagan first, said the minister. The draft report and draft management plan needed for Bagan’s nomination will be submitted in September and UNESCO officials will visit the site in 2018. Bagan’s nomination will then be brought up for deliberation at UNESCO’s 2019 World Heritage Site convention, according to the minister. “We have invited international experts. We plan to nominate Rakhine State’s Mrauk U in 2018 and Shwedagon Pagoda in 2019. We’ll later nominate Khakaborazi, Inle Lake, Indawgyi Lake, Inwa , Mandalay and Sagaing,” the minister said. The ministry will no longer allow climbing on all of Bagan’s pagodas and is currently building platforms from which visitors will be able to watch sunrise and sunset. Myanmar’s initial application for UNESCO recognition of Bagan came in 1996, but it was rejected due to poor management plans and legal frameworks. After UNESCO inscribed the ancient Pyu cities as the first Burmese World Heritage Site in June 2014, the culture ministry decided to continue campaigning for the addition of Bagan. UNESCO has accepted Bagan as a mixed cultural heritage zone following negotiations with the culture ministry and Mandalay divisional government which means that there is no need to relocate villages, hotels or guesthouses, said the minister.