RANGOON — A year after two foreign operators revolutionized Burma’s mobile market, the government has called on local companies to put forward bids to become the country’s fourth telecom operator.
The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology announced on Monday that the government would issue the fourth and final telecom license—which will target bids from local companies in joint venture arrangements with foreign firms—with contenders to submit expressions of interest by Aug. 24.
Chit Wai, a director from the ministry, said that firms would be required to demonstrate possession of adequate financial capabilities and capital reserves to form a new public telecommunications company.
“We can’t say that how much capital would be needed, but interested parties would need at least 3 billion kyats (US$2.5 million) under our rules,” he told The Irrawaddy.
He added that the ministry expects to finalize the new operator before the end of the current government’s term in November, and the initial license will be valid for 15 years.
Local companies interested in the tender will not be given the opportunity to choose their overseas counterparts, with the successful bidder expected to abide by a selection committee decision on any foreign partner. The local company would also be responsible for providing technical services, market strategies, and a share of both the license fees and consultancy fees to assist in the selection of a foreign joint venture partner.
Lwin Naing Oo, managing director of the Shwe Pyi Takon telecom company, said that his firm would apply for the fourth license and expected to be a leading candidate for the tender, on the back of its experience as a contractor providing mobile phone towers for other operators.
“It poses a big challenge for investors [at this stage], he said. “We have been a public company for two years, so I hope we stand a chance.”
Late last year, rumors abounded that the fourth license would be issued to the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC), a sprawling military-owned conglomerate with interests in manufacturing, agriculture and alcohol production.
Chit Wai denied on Monday that MEC was in contention for the final license.
“It is not true that the government considered MEC as the fourth operator,” he said. “It has been our aim to call on local public companies to take a license since before licenses were issued to the previous three operators.”
State-owned Myanmar Post and Telecommunications (MPT) has retained its dominance over the local mobile phone market despite the introduction of foreign operators Telenor and Ooredoo in 2014.
MPT had reached 11 million subscribers in January, well ahead of Telenor’s 3.4 million customers and Ooredoo’s 2.2 million subscribers at the end of last year.
All three firms are concentrating their resources on expanding telecommunications infrastructure into the country’s northern hinterlands and border areas, with combined funding commitments currently totalling around US$4 billion.
RANGOON — Hollywood movie star Angelina Jolie arrived in Naypyidaw on Wednesday morning in her capacity as a special UN envoy for refugee issues, according to a Ministry of Foreign Affairs source.
“She arrived to Naypyidaw this morning, and will stay there for one day,” said an official who was among the entourage that greeted the 40-year-old actress at the airport, speaking to The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity.
During her inaugural visit, arranged by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the British Embassy in Rangoon, the Academy Award winner and humanitarian activist will meet with several officials in the capital, according to a person familiar with details of the trip.
“She will spend two or three days in Burma,” the source said.
A senior official from Burma’s Ministry of Information said Jolie was due to meet with President Thein Sein, Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann and Defense Minister Wai Lwin on Wednesday.
In addition to her international renown as an actress, Jolie serves as a special envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ office.
During her stay in Burma, the actress is also expected to visit troubled Arakan State, according to Khin Soe, the chief immigration officer for the state, where communal tensions between Buddhists and Muslims have simmered for years.
“We have learned that she will visit Rakhine [Arakan State] but still don’t know when,” he said.
Hla Thein, the head of the Arakan State government’s Information Department, said that visit would come on Thursday.
“She will visit Rakhine State on Thursday as a UNHCR ambassador, and will meet with the state’s [Chief] Minister U Maung Maung Ohn. But we are not sure whether she will visit the camps,” Hla Thein told The Irrawaddy, referring to the camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) where more than 100,000 minority Rohingya Muslims, along with some Arakanese Buddhists, have lived since deadly violence broke out between the two communities in 2012.
As a UN special envoy, Jolie has previously visited Burmese refugees along the Thai-Burma border, where an estimated 130,000 Burmese nationals have lived for decades, fleeing conflict and poverty in eastern Burma.
Jolie arrived to Naypyidaw from Cambodia, where she planning to direct a film based on the book “First They Killed My Father,” a memoir from a survivor of the genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.
RANGOON — The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is confident of its chances for success in November’s general election and will not attempt to secure victory through unlawful means, the Union Parliament speaker has told the BBC’s Burmese service.
At the same time, Shwe Mann also claimed his party was not worried if ethnic parties and the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) won more seats in the next parliament.
“We have considered the attitude and will of the people, and we will prioritize people’s rights,” he said. “We are not worried about the election, as people have more of an understanding about our practical work for reform.”
The speaker, who is also chair of the USDP’s election campaign taskforce, promised that his party would not resort to electoral fraud in order to win the November poll.
“The party of 2010 and the party today are not the same thing anymore,” he said. “We have reduced central control and started to practice democratic principles. I have always said the upcoming election must be free and fair, with transparency.”
On the question of the perceived closeness of his relationship with NLD chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi, Shwe Mann acknowledged the opposition had a wealth of public support and said the pair had worked together cooperatively.
“We have mutual understanding, trust and an agreement that we will negotiate and coordinate together for the benefit of both state and citizen,” he said. “But we will compete against each other to win the election. This is the ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ we have.”
Responding to suggestions of a rift pitting the speaker and Suu Kyi against the ministry and the military, Shwe Mann made it clear that he was on the right side of the divide.
“This could be assumed,” he said. “If I have to say this clearly: rather than Suu Kyi and I being on one side, we could say that the people and I are on one side.”
Shwe Mann confirmed that he will contest a constituency from his hometown in Phyu Township, Pegu Division, rather than seeking re-nomination in his current seat in Zayarthiri Township, Naypyidaw. He denied this was a consequence of a petition circulated in Zayarthiri, calling on the Union Election Commission (UEC) to impeach the speaker for not respecting the military’s role in the Union Parliament.
The petition claims that Shwe Mann did not inform his constituents about plans to hold ultimately unsuccessful discussions on constitutional amendments last month that would have led to a reduction of military power in the parliament, leading to a ‘misunderstanding’ between the public and the military.
“I can take responsibility,” he said. “Even if they try to begin impeachment proceedings, I am ready and will face the charges according to the law.”
Questioned on whether he would be nominated for the presidency in USDP, Shwe Mann was coy in his response, saying that the final decision on the office would be a matter for his party.
RANGOON — Aung Thaung, a senior member of Burma’s ruling party with a reputation for hardline politicking that included alleged links to an infamous attack on the motorcade of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi more than a decade ago, died on Thursday at a hospital in Singapore. He was 74.
Win Myint, a fellow Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) lawmaker who plans to take his place in an election due Nov. 8, told The Irrawaddy that he was informed of Aung Thaung’s passing by the deceased man’s daughter on Thursday morning.
The Union Solidarity and Development Party adviser had been hospitalized two weeks ago, when on the afternoon of July 9, an ambulance cruised along the deserted boulevards of Naypyidaw to the airport of Burma’s capital. In the back of the vehicle, the ex-colonel laid unconscious after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage the previous night, and out on the airstrip a chartered plane was waiting to fly him to Singapore for treatment.
Known as a political hardliner who was close to former dictator Snr-Gen Than Shwe, the former military colonel’s name had become virtually synonymous with notoriety in an era of political reform that has otherwise seen many of Aung Thaung’s colleagues rehabilitate their reputations.
He was believed to be among the country’s wealthiest men—ill-gotten gains, it is widely believed—after serving as minister of industry under Burma’s former military regime.
Hailing from Taung Tha, a provincial town 80 kilometers southwest of Mandalay, the bespectacled Lower House lawmaker previously served as a leading member of the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA).
Founded by Than Shwe, the so-called “social association” that in 2010 transformed itself into a political party, the USDP, was infamous for clamping down on opposition to the junta, leading Suu Kyi to once describe the group as “a gang of thugs resembling Nazi Brownshirts.”
He has long been accused of orchestrating a mob attack on Suu Kyi’s convoy in northern Burma in 2003, when about 70 supporters of her National League for Democracy (NLD) were killed in an incident known as the “Depayin Massacre.”
When anti-Muslim riots hit central Burma in March 2013, The Straits Times of Singapore hinted at his possible connection to the communal strife by describing the emergence of a new Buddhist paramilitary force known as the “Taung Tha Army,” noting that Taung Tha is a town in Mandalay Division that “happened to be home to the notoriously hardline Aung Thaung.”
However, Aung Thaung has consistently denied any involvement in those incidents, telling The Irrawaddy in a June 2013 interview that the accusations were “nonsense” and “described without firm evidence.”
Aung Thaung was again thrown into the international spotlight last November, when the US Treasury Department blacklisted him for “intentionally undermining the positive political and economic transition in Burma.”
He later said he thought the sanctions, preventing US companies from doing business with him, were prompted by “someone’s request inside the country,” but the USDP leader declined to elaborate.
Despite his repeated denial of playing a leading role in the repressive regime that preceded the current quasi-civilian government, Aung Thaung has admitted to having a close relationship with Than Shwe, but attempted to temper speculation by describing that closeness as “to some extent,” saying there were others with tighter ties to the former strongman.
He had, nonetheless, not shied away from expressing his admiration for the man who ruled Burma with an iron fist from 1992 to 2011. In an interview with The Voice weekly a few weeks before his sudden illness, he praised the 2008 Constitution, which bans Suu Kyi from the presidency and entrenches a political role for the military, as Than Shwe’s greatest gift to Burma.
“The charter brings democracy to the country. It is his benevolent legacy. Were it not for it, there would have been many problems in the country,” he said.
Aung Thaung is survived by four children, some of whom are believed to be among the wealthiest people in Burma, with extensive business interests across multiple industries. IGE Co. Ltd. is publicly known as Aung Thaung family business, active in oil, gas and mineral extraction, as well as the high-end Amara Hotel in Naypyidaw and United Amara Bank.
RANGOON — Signboards and party flags for the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) were defaced and torn down in 20 Nansang Township villages on Tuesday night, according to local reports.
Four suspects from the government-aligned Matkyan militia group were arrested the same night, according to township NLD press officer Khin Maung Aye.
“It started around 8pm on Tuesday and it happened in 20 villages,” said Khin Maung Aye. “Four suspects were arrested around 1am. They said their superiors instructed them on their actions.”
The township, located 130 kilometers (81 miles) east of Shan State capital Taunggyi, is also home to the Napwe and SSS militia groups, and a branch of the Pa-O National Organization ethnic armed group.
The Matkyan militia is an offshoot of the Mong Tai Army—the former forces of notorious warlord Khun Sa, who was dubbed the “opium king” by the Western press for his involvement in the global drug trade. After splitting from the Shan State Army-South, the militia now operates under the control of the military’s divisional command and the Shan State Border Affairs Minister Col. Aung Thu, according to Taunggyi District NLD chairman Tin Maung Toe.
Local NLD officials had earlier been involved in negotiations with Matkyan leaders to campaign in Nansang ahead of November’s general election. Tin Maung Toe told The Irrawaddy that the NLD felt the need to negotiate its presence to ensure the security of its campaign workers, given the heavy presence of armed groups in the township.
Following Tuesday night’s vandalism, the NLD filed a complaint with the township court and police hauled the four suspects in for questioning on Wednesday morning.
Police Officer Aung Phyu from Nansang Police Station told The Irrawaddy that the four suspects were bailed at 3pm the same day, pending a July 29 court appearance. Khin Maung Aye disputes this, saying the alleged offenders were released without posting a bond. The Irrawaddy has been unable to independently confirm the conditions imposed on the release of the four suspects.
Tin Maung Toe said that the NLD is aware of the need for its members to campaign in groups, noting that campaigning alone in areas of militia activity or other dangerous locations would heighten risks for party workers.
“We have expected this sort of thing, because some of the political parties are backing armed groups,” he said. “They give them financial support and do business with them. We will inform the people as soon as similar cases arise and we will take action to minimize possible dangers.”
Pirates continue to hijack a coastal tanker on the average of once every two weeks to steal their cargo of fuel, according to data released Wednesday by the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Center.
A total of 134 incidents of piracy and armed robbery globally were reported to the center from January through June, an increase from 116 during the same period last year.
So far this year, 250 crew members have been taken hostage with one fatality and nine injuries.
Eleven out of the 13 hijackings reported in the first half of the year were in Southeast Asia.
“The serious attacks are the hijackings of the tankers in Southeast Asia and this year there has been a higher number in the first two quarters of this year than in the first two quarters of 2014” said IMB director Pottengal Mukundan in London.
Overall, attacks in Southeast Asia are greater in number than those of all other regions combined with one-third of all incidents occurring off the coast of Indonesia although “the majority of these related to low-level opportunistic thefts from vessels,” according to the IMB.