Myanmar workers are preparing to protest over alleged discrimination by Thailand’s PTT Exploration and Production Company, according to the Zawtika Offshore Myanmar Organization or ZOMO on February 20.
Myanmar workers in the Zawtika offshore project have alleged that PTTEP has discriminated unfairly against them by denying their rights including failure to provide wages on a par with Thai workers, and efforts to negotiate have resulted in little progress.
An official at the ZOMO said: “We will stage the protest at our offshore work site. We will wear our uniform and armband that has the Myanmar flag and Thai flag and a symbol of equation between the two flags. It means that equal rights should be given to Thai workers and Myanmar workers. We will stage the protest until our demands are met.”
On February 20, ZOMO issued a statement saying PTTEP only fulfilled one out of seven demands made by the Myanmar workers and it did not do enough to solve the issue.
The statement says the company failed to obey the rules related to environmental conservation, and violated the workers’ rights including the rights related to wages. Therefore, the workers are calling on the company to hold a face-to-face meeting involving the PTTEP, the Energy Ministry and ZOMO representatives, according to the statement.
Earlier, on February 5, the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise acted as mediator in talks between the workers and PTTEP.
The Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry says it expects the volume of bilateral trade between Myanmar and India will reach US$10 billion [K10,000 billion] by 2020, reports Xinhua on February 19.
The estimate was made after the 5th meeting of the India-Myanmar Joint Trade committee in Nay Pyi Taw.
Representatives from the Myanmar and India governments focused on trade promotion, cooperation between the two business communities and investment potential in various sector including renewable energy, health services and infrastructure development, sources said.
Meanwhile, both sides are hoping for US$ 3 billion in bilateral trade in 2015, seeking possibilities to enhance trade and investment between the two countries.
According to official figures, India's investment in Myanmar amounted to US$508 million at the end of December 2014, standing 11th in Myanmar's foreign investor line-up.
LASHIO / KUNLONG, Shan State — Tens of thousands of civilians who fled fighting between the Burma Army and Kokang rebels in Laukkai and the wider Kokang Special Region find themselves scattered across northern Shan State and China’s Yunnan province.
Among them are a large contingent of migrant workers from central Burma who, after seeing their salaries disappear along with the employers that dispensed them, are weighing their options at temporary camps in Lashio, Kunlong and elsewhere.
“We left all of our belongings to speed up travel. Our lives were the most precious thing to save first,” said Kyaw Min, a worker who arrived in Kunlong, about 32 miles southwest of Laukkai.
Many workers like Kyaw Min are from small towns and villages in Magwe and Pegu divisions and the Irrawaddy Delta region, drawn to northeast Burma annually to work on plantations during the sugarcane harvest.
With their Kokang bosses and plantation owners having fled to China as battles raged between Kokang rebels and government troops, these workers were unpaid and abandoned in the sugarcane fields located on the outskirts of Laukkai and other towns in the Kokang Special Region.
When food supplies on the plantations dwindled but gunfire did not, most decided to leave the fields to undertake risky journeys back to their homes. Early movers were able to hire trucks out of the region, but those departing later had no choice but to walk as transportation options dried up with the mass exodus.
“We had to sell some of our belongings to make some money. Some of us couldn’t even carry clothes or blankets, even though they are sick. But we are really glad we made it to Lashio and hope to go back home very soon,” said Naing Oo, a worker from Pegu Division.
“We just want no war. Because of war, we lost our jobs, earning no money and instead having to run for our lives,” he added.
The conflict began on Feb. 9 and has pitted the Kokang rebel Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) against government troops in some of the fiercest fighting in years. Dozens of soldiers on both sides have been killed, with untold civilian casualties as well.
Among the displaced in Lashio are the families of civil servants, police personnel and Burma Army soldiers. Most of them have left husbands, sons or daughters in Laukkai, where fighting continued on Thursday.
Some have lost loved ones in the ongoing conflict.
“My husband died during the battle in Laukkai and the army sent us here to Lashio for our safety. I feel proud of him and feel sad at the same time, as I don’t know what to do now without him,” said Aye Aye Win, a mother of two.
Others said they would anxiously wait out the fighting in Lashio.
“We are now so worried for them. When the conflict is over, I will urge my husband to quit the job or not return to the Kokang region ever again,” said Kyi Kyi Mar, the wife of a police sergeant who remains posted in Laukkai.
Yangon 19 February 2015: Myanmar Celebrities made donations of Food & Clothes to Fire Victims, whose village were destroyed by Fire on February 17 Night. More than 160 homes in this Bloknyunt Village, which is located across the Hlaing River from Kyimyindine Township, were engulfed by a fire. The donation event was organized by Celebrity & Model Agency. Photos by Wai Yan
RANGOON — Twenty-three years after more than a dozen members of a well-known student militia were massacred in northern Burma, a survivor of the incident has published a book recounting his experience.
The book was written by artist Htein Lin, who was a member of the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF) and one of the survivors of the Kachin State killings, which were carried out by some of the organization’s own members. The ABSDF was an anti-regime student army that formed after the country’s 1988 failed pro-democracy uprising to wage a campaign of armed resistance against the ruling junta of the time.
“The one definite answer as to why I wrote this book is my promise to Ko Htun Aung Kyaw [to expose the truth] and I feel like it’s my duty,” Htein Lin told the audience at a launch for the book, “ABSDF: The Northern Student Affair,” on Saturday.
In the jungles of Kachin State on Feb. 12, 1992, 15 members of the ABSDF were killed after they were accused of being spies for the military regime of the time, with some of the men tortured to death while undergoing interrogation.
Htun Aung Kyaw, the chairman of the northern ABSDF until he was accused of spying, was among those executed.
Prior to the Feb. 12 massacre, about 70 other ABSDF members were detained on similar espionage allegations in mid-1991. As many as two dozen other ABSDF members are thought to have died in the purge.
About 50 detained ABSDF members managed to escape in mid-1992, the author Htein Lin among them.
“I want readers to know how humans respond in difficult situations and while their lives are in danger,” Htein Lin said, adding that it was not easy to recount the incident.
At least three books about the massacre have previously been published.
“In my book, I was more interested to present my own experiences and how I have reflected on those instead of about the facts [relating to the incident],” Htein Lin told The Irrawaddy.
The book includes stories of the victims and descriptions of the torture, executions, deaths while in detention and the mass escape of dozens of ABSDF members suspected of espionage.
“I expect the readers will know how I felt,” he said.
Six ABSDF members who were among the party that escaped, including Htein Lin, presented performance art inspired by an excerpt from the book at its launch on Saturday.
Htein Lin said he had waited more than 20 years to tell his story because the country was not capable of meting out justice over the last two decades. Justice, the artist said, would include expulsion of individuals responsible for the killings from the ABSDF, and a clearing of the names of those accused of spying for the junta.
A daughter of U Sein, who died in ABSDF custody, opened an inquiry into her father’s death with a Rangoon court in 2012, but the case was closed four months later due to lack of evidence. In May 2013, Htun Aung Kyaw’s family also opened a case.
The ABSDF formed a truth commission to investigate the killings in 2012, and a report of its findings is expected to be released next month.
“Others haven’t open cases because the judicial process in the country is still weak,” Htein Lin said.
RANGOON — Student leaders and education NGOs on Sunday accused Burma’s government of violating the conditions of a recently reached agreement on drafting a new education bill. The groups said the Education Ministry had attempted to circulate its own bill, while authorities had continued to issue threats against students.
The Feb. 14 agreement ended large-scale student protests and was the result of extensive discussions between the government, student leaders, education NGOs, and lawmakers.
On Feb. 16, the bill was submitted to Parliament and it is due to be discussed soon. The draft incorporates the 11 principal concerns of student protesters, broadly seeking to loosen government control over educational institutions and expand access to education. Specific provisions include a decentralized curriculum and allowing for native language instruction in classrooms in ethnic minority regions.
However, on Feb. 17 state-run media published the Education Ministry’s own bill, alongside the agreed-upon bill with a title suggesting that the latter was only being proposed by education NGOs of the National Network for Education Reform (NNER) and student leaders of the Action Committee for Democratic Education.
NNER member Arka Moe Thu said the government appeared to distance itself from the agreed-upon bill and had attempted to present its own education bill that was “nearly the same” as the existing Education Law that students and NGOs have been opposing in recent months.
“It violates the four-party agreement,” he said during a press conference held in Rangoon on Sunday, during which the students and NNER released an open letter criticizing the government and calling on it to abide by the Feb. 14 agreement.
As a pre-condition to that agreement, students and NGOs had demanded that the government ceased legal threats against the students, but they said on Sunday that student demonstrators that wanted to march on to Rangoon had still faced legal threats after Feb. 14.
Nationalists Criticize Students’ Education Bill
On Monday, Burma’s nationalist Buddhist movement, the Ma Ba Tha, sought to further ingrain themselves into the country’s political discussions by issuing a statement that criticized the Feb. 14 education bill now in Parliament.
State media published a statement by the Ma Ba Tha, which is led by radical Buddhist monks and has been accused of fanning hate speech against Burma’s Muslim minority, saying that some unnamed provisions in the bill “will cause worries for the future of the country, dangerous loopholes, disastrous side-effects and tricks.”
A man answering the phone at Ma Ba Tha’s Rangoon center declined to explain the vaguely-worded statement. The Irrawaddy understands that the statement is targeted at Article 34 (j) of the bill.
In the current Education Law’s Article 34 Buddhist monastic schools are the only religious schools that can teach in minority languages. Amendments proposed by student leaders and education NGOs would add provision Article 34(j) that would expand the right to teach ethnic minority children in their mother language to all other religious schools.
In the days before Ma Ba Tha released its criticism of the education bill, posts began to appear on Burma’s social network sites where apparently nationalist Facebook users warned that Article 34(j) could lead to teaching of Arabic languages at Islamic schools.
Burma has an active and rapidly growing group of social network users and the sites have been used in the past to spread nationalist hate speech.
Independent education expert Thein Lwin, who helped draw up the Feb. 14 bill, said the amendment to Article 34 had been included at the request of Christian ethnic minority organizations that ran schools in ethnic regions, where many children entering primary school initially only speak their mother tongue.
“In education, there is no discrimination and we found that children learn more effectively when the teacher teaches in their native language,” he said.
Aung Hmine San, a student leader on the Action Committee for Democratic Education, said it appeared that the government was using the Ma Ba Tha to discredit the education NGOs and student movement, which have been popular with the Burmese public.
RANGOON — One of Burma’s leading women’s rights groups on Monday published groundbreaking qualitative research revealing troubling patterns of violence against women that had long gone unexamined.
In an 83-page report titled, “Behind the Silence: Violence Against Women and their Resilience,” Rangoon-based Gender Equality Network (GEN) undertook a deep study into the types of violence experienced by women in Burma and how women’s rights are perceived by a cross-section of society.
The extensive study, which was conducted by a team of five primary researchers in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, was among the first of its kind and will help to underpin a new anti-violence against women law set to reach Parliament in April or May of this year.
Research consisted of in-depth interviews with 38 women in Rangoon and Moulmein who had each experienced some form of intimate partner violence. Further study was carried out during focus group discussions in Lashio, Magwe, Loikaw, Labutta and Kale, and key informant interviews were conducted among relevant officials, legal advisors, counselors and various authorities.
A review of existing literature on violence against women (VAW) in Burma was also carried out, concluding that discrepancies in research methodology and terminology surrounding the issue to date has left “gaps in the literature,” whereby some types of violence have been overlooked and thus unaddressed.
GEN’s report also noted a “concerning lack of ethical and safety structures in place to minimize the possible negative consequences of research on sensitive topics with vulnerable women,” advising that future research be conducted with particular attention to confidentiality, follow-up support and avoiding future risk for participants.
The report, while admittedly not comprehensive, is what GEN referred to as “a step toward ending violence,” providing a picture of some of the forms violence takes in Burma, how it is experienced and how it is addressed. The study focused primarily on abuse perpetrated by partners such as husbands or boyfriends, but also examined some cases of non-partner abuse.
Participants described a broad range of violence, including economic manipulation, verbal abuse, physical and sexual assault. Almost all of the women involved in the study had experienced more than one type of abuse, indicating that violence is “not a one-off,” but rather a recurrent predicament.
More than half of participants had experienced intimate partner sexual violence, or marital rape, which is not a crime in Burma. GEN advocated strongly for the inclusion of a provision on marital rape in forthcoming legislation, noting that while current law does not identify this type of abuse as a crime, women also typically do not view it as such.
In the case of women who were sexually abused by their partner, the report said that “[v]ery few women actively identified their experiences as rape, yet all of them described incidents in which they were forced to have sex against their will.”
Normative attitudes about sex were found to center on male desire and female submission, the report said, resulting in societal values that herald “purity” and can lead to severe stigmatization. In some cases, women married men who raped them to avoid shaming themselves or their families.
“He grabbed me and had sex with me. I screamed, and he told me to be quiet and not shame him,” read one woman’s account of the first time she was with her spouse. “We became like husband and wife after sex, right? So I had to get married to him.”
Stephanie Miedema, one of the study’s principal researchers, said that similarities were apparent in the accounts of many of the women; most faced multiple forms of abuse, many had difficulty seeking support, and the experience of abuse often reinforced attitudes of inequality.
“Many women’s stories pointed to this idea that abuse is an indicator of unequal status in society,” she said, adding that disadvantages enshrined in law and in societal norms leave women “unable to negotiate their safety and security.”
Miedema’s colleague, Dr. San Shwe, reiterated the need to push forward with the Myanmar National Prevention of Violence Against Women Law, in order to ensure that all forms of violence are recognized as such and to provide women who experience abuse with avenues of adequate support and legal recourse.
“We still do not have a good law to protect [women] from some kinds of abuse,” she said, remarking specifically on psychological abuse, which the study found to be common among most participants, particularly in the form of humiliation and verbal abuse. “There are people who go mad, go loopy,” she said, “they get depressed, some of them attempt suicide.”
The report’s authors recommended that more research—both qualitative and quantitative—be carried out in continued efforts to understand how violence plays out and affects women in Burma, and advocated for the creation of a legal framework that provides for identifying and preventing abuse, supporting survivors, making recourse and medical care available and affordable, and promoting gender equality more generally. GEN also advocated for primary- and secondary-school curricula focusing on gender awareness, sexual and reproductive health.
RANGOON — A technician for a government-run broadcast station is still missing four days after he was abducted by unknown masked assailants in eastern Burma, according to a government official and a colleague.
Aung Zaw Tun, around 40 years of age, worked as technician-3 of Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV) at a station in Muse district, northern Shan State. He had been employed by the company since 1996.
Three men abducted Aung Zaw Tun from his home on Saturday night and he has not been seen or heard from since.
“We don’t exactly know [who kidnapped him]. We heard one armed group was related to this case,” Minister of Information Ye Htut told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.
He said that the man’s village, Mone Paw in Moe Gone Township, is located on the western side of the Salween River, near the border with Kokang Special Region.
MRTV Director General Tint Swe confirmed several details of the incident. He said that local administrators are still searching for the missing man in cooperation with the Burma Army.
Saturday’s kidnapping is believed to be the first time a member of the government’s broadcasting staff was abducted. MRTV Chief Engineer Hlaing Moe told The Irrawaddy that he “never heard of that kind of thing happening to our staff in rural areas.”
Staff from all of Muse district’s seven relay broadcast stations have been transported to Muse town for to ensure their safety.
Northern Shan State has been a hotbed of military activity in recent weeks. Tensions have been high in the area around Muse since late January, when two ethnic Kachin women were brutally killed and possibly raped in Shan State’s Kutkai Township.
A government investigation into the incident is still ongoing.
On Feb. 9, devastating clashes broke out between the Burma Army and an ethnic Kokang rebel group known as the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) along the Burma-China border.
Most of the fighting took place in the former Kokang stronghold of Laukkai, the administrative capital of the Kokang Special Region. At least 47 Burmese soldiers and 26 rebel troops have died in the ensuing conflict, according to state media.
Thousands of civilians have fled to nearby towns or across the border into Yunnan, China.
The government announced a state of emergency and martial law throughout the Kokang region on Tuesday.
RANGOON — Recent conflicts between the government and armed ethnic rebels in Burma are not expected to have an impact on foreign investment inflows over the next year, economic observers told The Irrawaddy this week, though broader turmoil could presage a negative long-term outlook.
On a visit to promote British investment in the Southeast Asian nation, City of London Alderman Alan Yarrow told The Irrawaddy in Rangoon that he did not think ongoing clashes in Burma’s northeast would impact foreign direct investment in the country.
“Nearly every country at the moment has a problem somewhere. And if you’re an emerging economy, and as rich [in natural resources] as Burma, you are going to have conflicts which are different,” he said, while acknowledging that he was a relative newcomer to economic punditry in Burma.
Yarrow, who also holds the title of “lord mayor” as London’s global ambassador, was visiting Burma for the second time, and met with government officials and members of the business community to share his experiences in government and the private sector.
“I don’t think that people will necessarily consider that as being serious unless it gets bigger. At the moment it’s a border conflict, it’s not something across the whole of the country,” said Yarrow, a former investment banker.
Heavy fighting between the Burma Army and the Kokang rebels, also known as the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), has raged since last week, with dozens of casualties reported on both sides. Battles are continuing for control of Laukkai, the region’s largest town.
Despite his unfamiliarity with the specifics of Burma’s economy, Yarrow said a universal truth was at play when it came to luring foreign businesses: investors crave certainty and predictability.
“Maybe tax [rates and policy], maybe civil unrest, maybe its lack of power [electricity]—all these things have an impact on risk,” he said.
“And the lack of legal certainty. So the answer is yes, that [ethnic conflict] of course is an element, but I would doubt it’s a big element because it’s very specifically in a region of a country. It’s not down in Yangon, Naypyidaw and Mandalay, it’s on the borders,” Yarrow said.
Due to the fighting, thousands of residents and migrant workers from the region in northern Shan State have fled south to Lashio. Tens of thousands more have reportedly fled into neighboring China’s Yunnan province. The Kokang flare-up follows on the heels of clashes in recent months between the Burma Army and a handful of other ethnic armed groups, including Kachin, Karen and Palaung insurgencies.
Myat Thin Aung, chairman of the Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone in Rangoon, said the fighting in northeastern Burma and recent student protests that the government has said threaten national stability would not be a serious drag on FDI.
“If the fighting was happening in cities like Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyidaw, it would definitely cause FDI flows to stop, but this fighting and protests are not happening in the major cities, so we don’t need to worry right now,” he said.
One sector that does look likely to be held back by recurrent fighting in the country’s border regions is the extractive industries. Though Burma is rich in natural resources, much of that wealth is concentrated on the country’s periphery in territories controlled or contested by ethnic armed groups. A mining bill that has languished in Parliament has further dampened foreign interest in the sector.
Dr. Maung Maung Lay, the vice chairman of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers and Commerce Industry (UMFCCI), took a less sanguine approach in assessing the long-term implications of continued unrest.
“Investors want sustained political stability for their long-term investments in such countries. Because we have a checkered past in the eyes of the international community, we need political stability first in the country,” he said.
“The Laukkai fighting will not have an impact on FDI in the short term; other countries have similar internal conflicts, but if it continues to happen frequently, it will [negatively] impact FDI flows,” he said.
RANGOON — A new law that enables Burma to hold a referendum on amending the Constitution is unlikely to bring changes that would allow opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to become president after this year’s general election, a ruling party parliamentarian said on Thursday.
President Thein Sein has signed off on a constitutional referendum law, lawmakers said on Wednesday. The move comes after domestic and international pressure to reform Burma’s political system, which is stacked in favor of the military.
Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party have been pushing for changes to the Constitution, which the military drafted. One clause bars anyone whose children or spouse are foreigners from becoming president, which is seen aimed at Nobel laureate Suu Kyi, whose two sons are British citizens.
Shwe Maung, a parliamentarian from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), said the clause is unlikely to be included if a referendum is held this year.
Bringing that section to referendum would require support from 76 percent of parliamentarians, but such a move would be opposed by unelected military MPs who hold 25 percent of the seats and many in the USDP, which holds most seats and is made up largely of former military officers, he said.
“I don’t expect a rapid change,” he said. “If it’s not possible this time, maybe in a future referendum.”
Burma’s president is chosen by parliamentarians after the general election.
It is unclear whether the referendum would be held at all this year.
Shwe Maung and other lawmakers have said a referendum could take place as early as May, as was suggested by the powerful parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann.
Others say that is unlikely given the logistical challenges faced by the Union Election Commission, which is busy preparing for general elections expected in late October or November. Preparations include updating the voters list, a mammoth task.
“The updated list won’t be ready until later in the year,” said Richard Horsey, a Yangon-based independent political analyst.
He said a constitutional referendum is unlikely this year, but could take place concurrent with the general elections if parliament was able to decide on which articles should be put to vote.