Myanmar's Minister of the President's Office, U Aung Min, said he made a trip to Japan to convey how a nationwide ceasefire agreement with ethnic rebel groups had been signed in March. He said Myanmar is aiming to take the right path and sought Japan’s further support, reports Channel News Asia on April 16.
Japan is one of Myanmar’s largest donor nations. Even when Myanmar's ally the United States, imposed sanctions, Japan did not.
U Aung Min presented a letter to Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe from his President, promising to achieve peace, democracy and a free and fair democratization of the upcoming elections.
He explained the ceasefire process was helped by four years of negotiation he held face-to-face with Japan’s special envoy, Mr Yohei Sasakawa, Chairman of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation.
U Aung Min was accompanied by Myanmar's Minister of Rail and Transportation and Minister of Immigration and Population during his trip.
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RANGOON — Kyaw Thu’s reputation precedes him; his name has become virtually synonymous with his work as a founder and director of the Free Funeral Service Society (FFSS). What many are about to be reminded, however, is that he used to have a different claim to fame.
Less than a decade ago, Kyaw Thu was known as shining star of the silver screen. An inspired actor and film director, he even once won a Burmese Academy Award. After an eight year hiatus, Kyaw Thu is planning a return to his previous life—ironically in the role of an undertaker, a part he has practically lived since establishing the FFSS in 2001.
“I have no particular difficulty acting as an undertaker character,” he told The Irrawaddy, remarking that he was excited to be back in the game with his old buddies, beloved Burmese movie stars including Yan Aung, Ye Aung and Min Oo.
Kyaw Thu will be taking the lead role in the new film, “Professor Dr. Sate Phwar,” directed by Khin Saw Myo and expected to be complete late this year. The film will be a highly anticipated adaptation of a Burmese detective novel published in the 1980s, which Kyaw Thu described as “not an entertainment-only movie, but sort of philosophical.”
Now in his 50s, Kyaw Thu said he accepted the role because the character interested him, and many friends and fans wished to see him return to the big screen. “Plus,” he said, “I want to show the younger generation who I am, many young people do not know me.”
Indeed, Kyaw Thu’s film career was stifled at its peak. He was barred from Burma’s government-controlled film industry because he was among those pro-democracy supporters who offered alms to Buddhist monks who had taken to the streets of Rangoon during the Saffron Revolution in 2007.
“I was angry at first,” he now recalls, but in retrospect he is grateful that he had more time to devote to his work with the FFSS. Founded in 2001, the organization offers funeral services free of charge and provides a free health clinic to people in need. As one of the Burma’s biggest charities, it has inspired and encouraged many of the country’s youths to take up similar work.
Director Khin Saw Myo said he was pleased about the opportunity to work with Kyaw Thu again, as the duo has a history of making successful films together.
“I chose veteran actors who would be suitable for this project,” he said. “It has been a long time since he has starred in a movie, and he happily accepted my offer. The audience will love it.”
RANGOON — Ethnic rebel leaders said the United Wa State Army (UWSA) will host a meeting between ethnic armed groups involved in the drafting of the preliminary nationwide ceasefire accord and several ethnic groups that have not directly participated in the process.
Wa spokesman Aung Myint said 12 ethnic groups are expected to convene on May 1-3 in Panghsang, a town located in northern Shan State on the Burma-China border where the powerful UWSA has its headquarters. “We are hosting it upon the request of our ethnic brothers,” he said.
The meeting will not be the much-anticipated conference in which the major rebel groups decide whether or not to endorse the preliminary ceasefire text that was recently agreed upon with the government, ethnic representatives said.
Gen. Gun Maw, deputy chief of staff of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), said the goal of the Panghsang meeting was to foster discussions between groups involved in the nationwide ceasefire negotiations with the government and ethnic groups that are not part of this process.
He said the conference would focus on “the peace process and evaluate on the progress as a whole.”
On March 30, the government agreed in principle with the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), which represents 16 ethnic groups, on the text for a nationwide ceasefire. The understanding was hailed by the government as a breakthrough, though the NCCT said it would have to take the draft text back to its leaders, who would have to convene and endorse its content before an accord can be signed.
Earlier reports suggested that the key meeting could take place in the Wa-controlled area, but it now appears that this meeting will take place later in KIA or Karen National Union (KNU)-controlled territory.
The conference in Panghsang is merely meant to foster discussions between NCCT members and those groups who are not NCCT members, such as the UWSA, the Mongla group and Shan State Army-South, and groups that the government refuses to acknowledge as participants in the nationwide ceasefire process.
The latter groups include the Arakan Army and the Kokang’s Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army. Both have been involved in heavy fighting with the Burma Army in northern Shan State in recent months.
NCCT members that are expected to attend the meeting in the Wa area include the KNU, the KIA, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the New Mon State Party and the Shan State Army-North.
Gun Maw said the Panghsang meeting “is not the NCCT’s proposed summit,” adding that a date and location for the NCCT meeting on endorsing the draft ceasefire agreement was yet to be determined.
RANGOON — A 43-year-old married Burmese physician was sentenced last week to 18 months in prison for sexual assault after he fondled a teenager’s breasts in the United Kingdom, British and local media have reported.
The general practitioner Dr. Unt Tun Maung was ostensibly examining the patient after she complained of chest pains in July 2012, according to the Daily Mail, when his lawyer told the court that his client was overcome by “a moment of madness.”
The London-based publication reported on Saturday that the doctor “asked the teenager to remove her bra, before cupping and squeezing her breasts before telling her to put her clothes back on.”
The victim filed a complaint with Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), but police were not alerted for “several months,” reported the online news portal metro.co.uk, adding that the doctor was suspended from practicing medicine in October 2013.
British media reported that Unt Tun Maung had been working for the NHS for 12 years and is a father of one. His lawyer told the court that he was otherwise held in high professional regard.
The Daily Mail said the doctor is also facing a General Medical Council investigation and quoted the trial’s presiding judge as saying his medical career was “unquestionably over.”
Burmese media have reported that Unt Tun Maung is the husband of well-known Burmese author Lun Htar Htar, whose Facebook account was deactivated on Saturday. The Irrawaddy could not independently confirm those reports.
Here are snapshots of COCA COLA Thingyan Mandat on Kabar Aye Pagoda Road in Yangon on the last day of Thingyan Water Festival, April 16, 2015. Wyne Su Khine Thein, Wai La, Wyne Lay, Mi Sandy and other singers performed for the Coca Cola Thingyan Stage. Photos by Wai Yan
Here are snapshots of ALPINE Thingyan Mandat on Kabar Aye Pagoda Road in Yangon on on the third day of Thingyan Water Festival, April 15, 2015. Well-known hiphop singer Sai Sai Kham Leng, Snare and other hip-hopper performed at the ALPINE Thingyan Stage. Photos by Wai Yan
RANGOON — Two Japanese and one Singaporean bank will become the first foreign banks to operate in Burma for decades when they open branches on April 23, as the country emerges from a long phase of economic isolation, state media reported Thursday.
“The Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd [BTMU], Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation [SMBC] and Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation Ltd became the first to clear the final hurdle among nine foreign lenders awarded preliminary approval,” the state-backed Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported.
Crippled by mismanagement during 49 years of military regimes and cut off from much of the world due to Western sanctions, the domestic banking sector remains ill-equipped to provide services to local citizens, let alone global companies.
A semi-civilian government took power in 2011 and has initiated sweeping economic reforms. In October, the government granted nine foreign banks coveted licenses to operate on a limited basis, its biggest move to date to bring in much needed foreign capital to a fast-growing economy.
The licenses are limited to one branch that can provide loans to foreign companies and only in foreign currency, and the licensees are also expected to lend to domestic banks.
Sumitomo has partnered up with the local bank KBZ, the newspaper reported.
Mitsubishi UFJ is a unit of Mitsubishi Fnancial Group Inc, and Sumitomo Mitsui is a unit of Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc.
Burma’s Central Bank said on April 2 that it expected the remaining six foreign banks to submit applications for their final licenses in the coming months.
The remaining six banks are: the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd, Bangkok Bank, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), Malayan Banking Berhad, Japan’s Mizuho Bank, and Singapore’s United Overseas Bank.
Mizuho Bank is a unit of Mizuho Financial Group Inc.
RANGOON — Only a few shops are open in Bahan Township’s unusual bazaar at 6:45 am on a Saturday, when those who exercise nearby come to buy their produce. The once-weekly market began offering a rare selection of natural fruits and vegetables in March for customers concerned with food hygiene and safety.
The “Safe Food from Safe Farms” market was an initiative of the Myanmar Fruits, Flowers and Vegetable Producers and Exporters Association (MFVA) to ensure access to clean, natural and delicious produce. The market’s dozen or so vendors don banners showing where their farms are located: Naypyidaw; Hlegu, Pegu Division; Nyaung Htone, Irrawaddy Division; Aung Pan, Pindaya and Ywar Ngan in Shan State.
Zaw Min Tun, the manager of an organic farm in Naypyidaw owned by the Dagon International company, said while the new market isn’t yet bringing in much profit, he’s glad to be among the pioneering merchants bringing organically produced food into the fold.
“Our products may not be as beautiful as those that use chemical fertilizers,” he admitted, but ultimately, “they are absolutely safe for our health.”
Dagon International, which has been using organic farming methods and cultivating chemical-free crops on some 100 acres of land since 2011, also supplies hotel restaurants in Naypyidaw, but those who shop at the Rangoon market get a much better bargain. Zaw Min Tun said his clients in the capital pay about double the price for the fresh, local products.
All of the farms in the Safe Foods network are regularly inspected to ensure that they are chemical-free and produce natural foods through sustainable practices. The MFVA can “guarantee the safety” all of the market’s foodstuffs, according to the association’s secretary, San Lin.
“It’s not that the vegetables sold here are one hundred percent organic,” he said, “but what we recommend here is safe food.”
Unfortunately, he added, the 33 farms in the network are not yet ready to mass produce organic foods, but they will be in time. Organic agriculture requires pure soil, seeds and water sources, which poses problems for many farmers in Burma whose lands are near industrial sites. “Even if the farmers don’t use chemicals, they can be affected,” San Lin explained.
The MFVA has been providing technical support since 2010 for farmers who want to go natural, but they still have a long way to go. He said both the association and the farm owners hope to eventually produce certifiable organic produce and sell it in Rangoon, where demand is growing faster than in other parts of the country.
In just the past month, the Safe Foods market has been gaining popularity, especially among some of the city’s older residents, who have been some of the most loyal and enthusiastic customers.
“As an elder person, I am careful about eating healthy food,” said Daw Thwin, a 67-year-old woman who takes a daily walk in Bahan and shops at the market every Saturday. “We are reluctant to buy fruits at the regular markets out of fear of chemicals, but with this market we don’t have to worry about that.”
Food safety has always been an issue in Burma, but consumers often have little choice when it comes to safe food at reasonable prices. Media attention to excessive chemical use has also helped to make the public aware of health risks associated with certain foods.
As Daw Thwin hung around waiting for more shops to open, she said she had only one suggestion for making the market more successful.
“It could be improved by opening earlier for the morning walkers, as many people get up and do exercise at Kandawgyi Park,” she recommended. In their defense, vendors said the city traffic slows things down, but they hope to be able to meet consumers’ needs.
The Safe Foods from Safe Farms market is open every Saturday at Myay Padethar Kyun, near the Garden Mart and Education Center in Rangoon’s Bahan Township, but the market will be closed during the Thingyan holiday.