Police fired warning shots as Buddhist Nationalists storm Muslim areas in Yangon
Myanmar and the Vatican have established diplomatic ties
259 prisoners released under Presidential amnesty
Myanmar Mahar Htun is partnering with Siemens to provide technology support to ports in Myanmar
Progress At Peace Talks - The principal players’ negotiations at the Union Peace Conference mark a significant step toward future democratic federalism, said Aung San Suu Kyi at the closing ceremony of the second 21st Century Panglong in Naypyidaw. Despite encountering disagreement over the basic federal principles of equality and self-determination - among government, other political parties, the Tatmadaw and the ethnic armed organizations - the members of the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee are optimistic that the conference achieved its aims to some extent. Suu Kyi, who is also the chairperson of the UPDJC, participated in negotiating the key terms of the federal principles, such as those concerning secession from the Union and equality between the Tatmadaw and the ethnic armed organizations. “The agreements that we have been able to sign today mark a significant step on our path toward peace, national reconciliation, and the emergence of a democratic federal Union,” she said. “Reaching these agreements has not been easy; we have encountered moments of disappointment as well as inspiration along the way. Yet I am greatly encouraged that despite our many different views and perspectives, we have been able, through frank discussion and negotiation, to reach common positions,” she added, stating that the foundations for democracy and federalism for future generations have been laid through dialogue. After the negotiations, stakeholder representatives from the government, Parliament, the Myanmar Army, political parties, and ethnic armed groups who were signatories to the nationwide ceasefire agreement agreed to 37 of 41 basic federal principles and signed Part 1 of the Union Accord . However, key principles regarding equality, self-determination and federalism have not yet been included in the accord, and delegates said further discussion would continue in this regard. The debate about the term “non-cessation from the Union” was not settled and the Tatmadaw wants a commitment from the ethnic armed organizations that they pledge not to separate from the state. Aung San Suu Kyi concluded “we can find similarities despite our differences and we can identify common ground through peaceful negotiation.” She urged the public “to continue actively along the path of peace and to remain focused on the future,” to end the decades-long conflict in the country.
But Fighting Persists - Fighting escalated between the Tatmadaw and the Northern Alliance in northern Shan State just weeks before the second session of the 21st Century Panglong conference. Northern Alliance member the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) stated that fighting occurred almost daily in the Kokang region since April 27. Fellow member Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) reported 20 separate clashes with the Tatmadaw within the last two weeks. The TNLA stated its brigades 1 and 3 clashed four times with Burmese military troops yesterday in Mong Ton Township, where the Tatmadaw’s Infantry Division 88 launched an offensive after the Thingyan water festival, and the fighting continued this morning. “It is carrying out heavy operations against the TNLA/PSLF [Palaung State Liberation Front], and the MNDAA,” Brig-Gen Tar Phone Kyaw, General Secretary of the TNLA and Northern Alliance spokesperson, said. “We will keep fighting back. We have no choice. We will just defend ourselves using guerrilla warfare. “The Tatmadaw plans to diminish Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership of the second Panglong conference and its politics. They create war against peace to show that the power is in their hands,” he added. The Northern Alliance, which also comprises the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Arakan Army (AA), stated that it had been fighting the Tatmadaw on a daily basis in Kokang. Burmese military troops, it added, were using artillery to shell an MNDAA base. The military-run Ministry of Defense stated on May 7 that a grenade shot by the TNLA wounded three civilians in Namkham Township. The Tatmadaw has refused to hold peace talks with the MNDAA, the TNLA, and the AA, stating that the three groups formed after the quasi-civilian government took office in 2011.
Sino-Myanmar Cooperation Agreements Signed - China and Myanmar signed five agreements recently regarding cooperation in economic development, health, and the preservation of historic monuments in Bagan, following a meeting between Aung San Suu Kyi and Chinese President Xi Jinping. An agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation, and a memorandum of understanding on Cooperation within the Framework of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative were signed between the two countries. An MoU was signed by both commerce ministries to establish a China-Myanmar Border Economic Cooperation Zone. Another MoU was signed on health cooperation by Myanmar’s Ministry of Health and Sports and the National Health and Family Planning Commission of China. The Ministry of the Religious Affairs and Culture signed a MoU to cooperate on post-quake restoration and protection of historic monuments in Bagan with China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage. Suu Kyi and the Chinese Premier attended the signing ceremony for the five agreements. Maung Maung Soe, a political analyst, said among the five, two stand out: the Framework of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative, and the establishment of the China-Myanmar Border Economic Cooperation Zone, adding that the level of country agreement on future MoU proposals remains to be seen. It seems that China wants to open another economic zone on the China-Myanmar border near Chin Shwe Haw of Kokang, near the Muse Special Economic Zone, he said. He also added that the One Belt, One Road MoU could be related to a deep-sea port project in Kyaukphyu which is still being negotiated by stakeholders from the two countries. “We need to welcome economic investments but it is important to carefully considered who will control [infrastructure and development] projects,” he said.
Economic Growth Forecast - Myanmar’s economy is predicted to grow by at least seven percent in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 fiscal years after growth of six percent last fiscal year according to observer group AMRO. Moderate growth of 6.3 per cent in Myanmar last fiscal year compared to 7.3 percent the year before was accounted to slowing agriculture and construction and declining gas prices, said AMRO’s report. It predicted an uptick in GDP growth this fiscal year due to greater manufacturing and a recovery in agriculture after 2015’s severe floods. Increased investment is also likely to fuel GDP growth following the implication of Myanmar’s new Investment Law, although a lack of detailed regulations continues to deter investors. The opening of Special Economic Zones (SEZs), including Thilawa, is also predicted to spur growth. Government efforts to enhance monetary policy through deposit auctions, a new reserve requirement and improved forecasting allowed the Central Bank to manage inflation with more success in the 2016-17 fiscal year; inflation averaged 6.8 percent in 2016-17 compared to 10 percent the year before. Myanmar’s financial and economic stability remain at risk from high credit growth and low central bank foreign reserves, AMRO warns. Myanmar’s 2016 Financial Institutions Law is an important step in mitigating financial risk, but the government should introduce closer inspections of commercial banks and publish reports on their financial soundness, the report recommends.
River Taxis? - Tint Tint Myanmar Company, a company set to provide water taxi services on Yangon’s rivers next month, has reassured people that the service will be safe and efficient amid criticisms that the project lacks transparency. Tint Tint Lwin, chairwoman of the company, says that she is confident the initiative to ferry passengers along the city’s waterways will succeed. However, lawmakers fear the implementation of the water taxis may replicate the launch of the city’s revamped bus service, introduced in January, which was criticized for having aggressive staff, a shortage of buses, and being generally unreliable. Regional parliamentarians have also complained that their questions about the company’s plan have been left unanswered, as the company, which won the tender in February, prepares to launch its fleet in the second week of June. “At first, people will be concerned, but after taking a ride and seeing the advantages of the water buses, such as less pollution, and more convenience, like reading newspapers and drinking coffee while taking a ride, plus no traffic congestion on the rivers, I am sure the demand will be high,” Tint Tint Lwin said, adding that the project was “100 percent our investment” and not a joint venture with the government or another company. The company loaned USD$34 million from KBZ Bank for the project, she added. Known for running river cruises on the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers, the firm has bought four used boats—three from Australia and one from Thailand—for the taxi service. The boats can carry 180-200 passengers each and are expected to arrive in Myanmar imminently. At least 16 boats will connect Hlaing Tharyar and Botahtaung with eight stops under the first phase of the project. Two routes along Nga Moe Yeik Creek and Thanlyin will follow within three to six months after the jetties have been constructed. 56 to 67 boats are expected to service the full operation. Tint Tint Lwin said her firm has prepared GPS and monitoring systems, and life jackets for every passenger. Each ticket will include travel insurance and emergency rescue teams will be on standby, she added. The water taxis will run every 20 minutes from 6 a.m. to about 6.30 p.m., with tickets from 300-500 kyats, according to the chairwoman. Phase one of the project will target about 20,000 commuters.
EAC and Unilever Join Forces - Myanmar’s consumer products manufacturer Europe and Asia Commercial Co. Ltd (EAC) has signed a joint venture deal with Unilever, combining their home and personal care businesses. The joint entity, with annual sales of more than US$109 million, will provide both companies with a complementary portfolio, better rural reach and economies of scale, said Unilever, which entered the Myanmar market in 2010. The venture has a goal of tripling sales to around $330 million by 2020, Pier Luigi Sigismondi, Unilever’s president for Southeast Asia and Australasia, said. EAC, whose products include well-known brands of detergent and dishwashing liquid, will also help add to Unilever’s manufacturing capabilities. “We felt that maintaining organic growth alone will take us far, but not as far as joining forces with EAC,” Sigismondi said. “We have a factory that produces shampoos, haircare products, and we believe that with this joint venture, we will be able to produce the rest of our personal care range in the country,” he added.
Digital Cinemas - Paradiso Cinemas Co Ltd has spent about $2 million of a proposed $20 million investment for building cinemas, with two cinemas opened in Hmawbi and Monywa. Paradiso is a joint venture between Maze and Myanmar Investment Group with 60 per cent and 40 per cent stake respectively. It aims to finish the construction of 100 cinemas in two years, with an overall investment of $20 million. A number of other cinemas are under construction, in Pyarpon, Shwebo, Madaya, Kalay, Kyaukpadaung, Yamaethin and Aungban.
Kyaukphyu - China is looking to take a stake of up to 85 percent in the strategically important deep sea port of Kyaukphyu on the Bay of Bengal, as part of its ambitious “One Belt, One Road” infrastructure investment plan to deepen its links with economies throughout Asia and beyond. A consortium led by China’s CITIC Group has proposed taking a 70-85 percent stake in the $7.3 billion port, according to negotiating documents seen by people familiar with the talks between the Chinese state-owned conglomerate and Myanmar’s civilian government. The size of the proposed Chinese stake is substantially larger than the 50/50 joint venture proposed by Myanmar late last year, an offer rejected by CITIC. Well-placed sources say that China has signaled it was willing to abandon the controversial $3.6 billion Myitsone dam project in Myanmar, but would be looking in return for concessions on other strategic opportunities in the Southeast Asian nation—including the Bay of Bengal port. Kyaukphyu is important for China because the port is the entry point for a Chinese oil and gas pipeline which gives it an alternative route for energy imports from the Middle East that avoids the Malacca Straits, a shipping chokepoint. The port is part of two projects, which also include an industrial park, to develop a special economic zone in Myanmar’s western Arakan State. CITIC was awarded the lead role in both initiatives in 2015.
Negotiations between Myanmar and CITIC come amid a Chinese diplomatic push to forge better ties with its resource-rich neighbour. Myanmar’s leaders have traditionally been wary of domination by China. But the country last month signed an agreement that will see oil pumped through the pipeline from Kyaukphyu across Myanmar to southwestern China, while leader Aung San Suu Kyi recently visited Beijing for a summit on “One Belt, One Road”, President Xi Jinping’s signature policy. One of the sources, who declined to be named, said CITIC was in the “driving seat” on the port project, and that Myanmar was unlikely to ask for a stake of more than 30 percent due to opposition from the Chinese firm. “Some people worry that China would have the power to do anything they want and control the project if it owns 85 percent,” said the person, who is familiar with the thinking of policymakers in Myanmar. “But Myanmar doesn’t have other options,” the person added, citing the Myanmar government’s financial constraints.
The nearly $10 billion Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone, which Myanmar’s government has said would create an economic hub akin to Singapore covering 4,289 acres, is part of Myanmar’s plan to boost the economy in one of its poorest regions. A second consortium led by CITIC has also proposed taking a 51 percent stake in the $2.3 billion industrial park, an offer Myanmar has agreed to according to the same sources. The economic zone faces opposition from activists and residents who criticized the tender process and said the development would have a negative impact on local people. Around 20,000 people are at risk of losing their homes and livelihoods due to land acquisition for the zone, according to the International Commission of Jurists, a human rights watchdog. CITIC’s consortiums include China Harbor Engineering Company Ltd, China Merchants Holdings, TEDA Investment Holding and Yunnan Construction Engineering Group. The only non-Chinese state-owned company involved is Thailand’s Charoen Pokphand Group.
Culture and Tourism
Bagan UNESCO Application - The initial application to have the Bagan Archaeological Zone listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site will be submitted by September this year, according to the religion and culture ministry. “The draft report and draft management plan are now 60 percent complete and we will submit the dossier in September,” said Thein Lwin, the deputy director of the Department of Archeology. If the draft is submitted to UNESCO on time, World Heritage Site Committee representatives could visit Bagan in 2018 and the site would be brought up for deliberation at UNESCO’s 2019 World Heritage Site convention, according to the director. The department said buffer zones around the Bagan site were already expanded since July last year, to Tant Kyi Taung Pagoda, west of Bagan across the Irrawaddy River, and to Yone Lut Kyung area, located east of Bagan. The Bagan archaeological site was enlarged from 42 square miles to 62 square miles with these new buffer zones, according to the department. Myanmar’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site application was submitted in 1996 but rejected because of poor management plans and legal framework. Economic development and a growing tourism infrastructure in Bagan’s vicinity have been the biggest challenges facing the site in its bid to become a World Heritage Site, threatening preservation of the cultural areas. Bagan houses stupas, temples and other Buddhist religious buildings constructed from the 9th to 11th centuries—a period in which some 50 Buddhist kings ruled the Bagan Dynasty. There are more than 3,000 stupas and temples in the area. Of these, 120 temples have stucco paintings and 460 have mural paintings that are found to be in need of preservation.
Declining Forest Cover - Satellite imagery indicates that intact forest cover in Myanmar has declined rapidly over the last decade. A countrywide analysis of Landsat data for the period 1990–2000 showed that Myanmar had retained much of its original forest cover during that time, stretching across 65 percent of the country’s land. More than a decade later in 2014, more than 63 percent of Myanmar remained forested, but intact forest had declined by 11 percent, or by more than 2 million hectares, with an annual loss of 0.94 percent. The total intact forest, which is vital for biodiversity and conservation, was just 38 percent in 2014, according to the study. The reduction of armed conflict in some areas and the expansion of commercial agriculture, including plantations, were identified as key contributing factors to forest loss. The report identifies nine township “hotspots” of deforestation. The areas around Homalin Township in Sagaing Division, Bokpyin Township in Tenasserim Division and Hpakant Township in Kachin State lost the most intact forest between 2002 and 2014. Other areas most affected included land around Myitkyina and Tanai townships in Kachin State and mangrove forests in the Irrawaddy Delta. The authors found a large area of some 6.3 million hectares of intact forest in northern Myanmar. The Southern Forest Complex in Tenasserim still jointly covers around 1.7 million hectares of intact forest, the study found. Myanmar is “at a crossroads,” according to the authors. “Protection of remaining intact forests, and restoration of degraded forest are critical to ensuring the long-term future of the country’s forests,” they said.