RANGOON — A memorial has been held in downtown Rangoon for two Kachin women found murdered in the northern Shan State village of Kaung Kha earlier this week.
Maran Lu Ra and Tangbau Hkawn Nan Tsin, two young teachers from Myitkyina, were found dead on Tuesday in the room they shared on the grounds of the local Kachin Baptist Church school.
The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar reported on Friday that the women had suffered stab wounds and head injuries, and a source from the hospital in Muse where the victims were sent for post-mortem analysis said the pair had been raped—a report yet to be confirmed by an official release of the autopsy results.
According to Amnesty International, soldiers from the 88th Battalion’s 503rd Infantry Division were stationed in the village on the night the attack occurred. Kaung Kha villagers have laid blame for the attack at the feet of the Burma Army.
In emotional scenes, about 50 rights activists and members of the Kachin community, dressed in black, gathered at Maha Bandoola Garden Park on Friday morning to lay flowers at the Victory Monument and denounce the murders.
“Over many decades, the Burma Army has committed crimes against humanity through its treatment of ethnic women,” Khin Ohmar, the coordinator of Burma Partnership, told mourners. “The Burma Army has their own code of conduct which they need to respect. The people who lead the army need to tell their soldiers to stop raping ethnic women.”
Mar Mar Cho, coordination officer of the Women’s Organizations Network, echoed Khin Ohmar’s comments at the memorial.
“We have asked many times for the government to bring justice to those who rape women, but they never take action against their soldiers.”
The Burma Army has denied its soldiers are responsible for the accusations, after sending an investigation team to the area on Wednesday. State media reported on Friday that an investigation into the deaths is ongoing.
“For our government, such a brutal incident is unacceptable,” presidential spokesman Ye Htut told The Irrawaddy. “But, it is too early to say who was involved in the crime as we are still investigating.”
The Kaung Kha case is the latest incident in which the Burma Army has been scrutinized over allegations of sexual violence. A report released last year by the Women’s League of Burma documented 104 cases of sexual violence against women between the 2010 elections and Jan. 2014, the majority of which occurred in tandem with military offensives.
A funeral is being held in Myitkyina today for the two women.
Despite much vaunted economic reforms since 2011, some observers have noted that Myanmar’s economy is underperforming. In the lead up to national elections slated for late 2015, economists and business leaders have also voiced concerns that possible political instability could hamper economic progress. Dr. Maung Maung Lay, the vice chairman of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI), spoke with The Irrawaddy’s Kyaw Hsu Mon on the prospects for growth in a crucial year ahead.
Question: Last January, President U Thein Sein said the country was targeting 9.1 percent GDP growth for 2014-15. Do you think this is likely?
Answer: President U Thein Sein’s statement was optimistic. The facts and figures which he referred to are more favorable than I’ve seen. [Even] the president’s economic advisor U Myint recently said that this economic data might be incorrect. As you know, the government has often politicized data. That’s why the government’s Central Statistical Organization has now been reconstructed in order to gather quality data. Past data might be incorrect because it was not systematically collected through township offices. If the data collection process is poor, the resultant facts and figures will also be incorrect. We need accurate figures. At the moment, the data collection system is improving and is not so different from that of other organizations like the World Bank or the Asian Development Bank.
Q: When do you expect Myanmar will graduate from least developed country (LDC) status?
A: We can count the countries that have graduated from LDC status. Some observers have indicated that Myanmar has many requirements to fulfill before it can graduate from LDC status, and that will take time. Some expect it may take at least 5-10 years. If we try our best, dreams will come true. But it’s not possible to simply move from LDC status at once.
Q: Are factors such as the tax rate, the trade deficit and other aspects of trade policy a major barrier to this?
A: It is due to all these factors. We need to improve across all sectors. We still need to improve on a micro and macroeconomic level in our country to develop the economy.
Q: Is the UMFCCI acting as an independent body?
A: We’re now elected by members so it is independent. In the past, we were advocating for the government. Now we not only advocate, we also make claims to the government on what our members want and on the requirements of international standards. We’re trying to upgrade our members’ capacity and closely follow international economic trends.
Q: How do you collaborate with the different government ministries?
A: The UMFCCI is currently working with all sectors. Collaboration with government ministries is getting better. They’re listening to the UMFCCI’s input and suggestions in order to help solve problems. We have a good mutual understanding and are working well together.
Q: What do you think of the claim that high tax rates are making it difficult for some businesses to compete with regional competitors?
A: The government has recently decreased some taxes for local businesses to encourage production. According to international guidelines the government shouldn’t always protect local businesses, but here, the government is protecting some small businesses. It’s true that commercial tax rates are still high. People are criticizing the 5 percent commercial tax rate for consumers and manufacturers. However, the government collects less tax compared to other countries. How will the country’s infrastructure improve [without higher taxes]? People need to know the advantages of paying tax to the government.
Q: Why is Myanmar’s trade deficit on the increase?
A: Many countries have this kind of trade deficit, but the amount is different. [In Myanmar] imports are higher than exports. We need to negotiate gradually to reduce the trade deficit. But the country is still surviving despite this issue. It’s only about a US$2 billion deficit in Myanmar. It’s not a serious problem, but some have said so because the country has never reached this level of deficit before.
Q: How will the economy fare this year when the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) begins, since there will be more tax-free imported goods flowing into the country?
A: The trade deficit will increase this year. The government needs to encourage local entrepreneurs but not provide trade protections that are against World Trade Organization rules. It’s difficult to balance exports and imports. Government ministries will have to work together. The AEC should actually mark the end of the beginning for us. Not the beginning of the end. I’ve warned that it should not be seen as negative for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). More than 80 percent of our businesses are SMEs. What’s needed is good corporate governance. Otherwise, we will be overwhelmed by our competitors. The government should also control the rate of inflation next year. We need comprehensive policies.
Q: Have the UMFCCI and the military-owned Myanmar Economic Corporation collaborated?
A: No we haven’t. They are an independent entity. We have invited them for some workshops and business discussions with foreign trading partners, but they rarely attend.
Q: Do you agree that Myanmar’s Central Bank is not standing up for local businesses? What is your personal opinion?
A: The Central Bank has been working under the Ministry of Finance for a long time. Now they are trying to emerge from its shadow. The bank’s leading officials are good people. We aren’t too critical of them. They are relatively independent compared with the past. I hope [the Central Bank] will gradually improve.
Q: Some people are concerned that Myanmar’s economy may be impacted by political uncertainty this year. What’s your view?
A: I don’t think it will be impacted by the political situation. People will be trying to win over voters by campaigning hard but they will be more focused on political rather than business issues. Some will pledge to do more in order to be reelected. Almost all countries in the world tend to move cautiously in election years. Whether or not we’re ready for the AEC may become a political issue. The next government may face problems [concerning the AEC]. Some officials have indicated they’re prepared for the AEC but it will be hard to implement. Even Thailand is still trying to prepare for it. We will have to do more, practically and mentally.
This interview originally appeared in the Jan. 2015 issue of The Irrawaddy Magazine.
There are lines that one does not cross and words that one does not utter—especially if one is a man of the cloth. I am not going to bemoan: “Oh! What has the world come to? What has become of this noble order?!” This is about one individual—a demagogue running wild and potentially poisoning an entire society. Every age has its rogue characters, and ours is no exception.
The reader, no doubt, knows who this article is about. This is about a well-known Buddhist monk, U Wirathu, and his hateful words regarding a female human rights expert representing the United Nations.
When the words, ethos and collective emotions of masses are left to simmer unchecked for too long, they risk boiling over. Any sane and conscientious society should try to contain potentially harmful sentiments and nip the problem in the bud before it can be harnessed by ill-willed provocateurs. That such preventative measures haven’t happened in Burma a symptom of a societal malaise, and our chief rabble-rouser is a mirror held up to present-day Buddhist society.
The image in the mirror is clear, however homely it may be, and each member of this society needs to act thoughtfully and responsibly to change the course.
A man is shamed not by his birthplace or other incidental facts about him, but by his words and deeds. By extension, a society is shamed if it bows to the shameful, letting them run wild among the rest. Several hundred people listened and cheered when this demagogue spoke. There will always be a mob—people who are swayed by emotion and easily led by the nose—but we need to listen past that to the counter-voices of reason and sanity.
Those voices, admittedly, are both faint and scarce. If this disparity continues, the purveyors of poison will prevail.
The majority in Myanmar society will need to undergo a deep transformation to achieve greater understanding and tolerance for other faiths and ethnicities. The crushing dictatorship that lasted half a century swept those issues under the rug—or rather the bamboo mat. Now that the demons of those long-buried issues have reared their ugly heads, it is clear that containing the damage and handling the legacy of state-fostered intolerance is a far more critical concern than vague dreams of “democratization.”
This is where institutional responsibility comes in. Trouble is being fomented by extremists within the Buddhist clergy and the government is doing nothing about it. Even beyond the government’s correctional capacity, doesn’t the Sangha itself have a mechanism for dealing with rogue behavior? State props won’t help if the institution at the core of this controversy has no moral authority.
The state could nonetheless do more. There is a Ministry of Religious Affairs, and there are laws. Unfortunately, the government uses these tools as it likes and the rules are often unevenly applied. But the strongest and furthest-reaching impact that the government could have on this issue would come from political leadership, if it were only willing to speak up. This is an election year, after all, and anything that could cost a vote is assiduously avoided. But I would suggest that even Myanmar’s biggest issues, such as armed conflict and chronic poverty, are slighted by the problem of an immense political vacuity right up to the highest levels of governance. Nota bene: Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has also been silent.
The office of the UN human rights rapporteur has undergone a sea-change in Myanmar. There was a time when the military’s notorious secret police leaned heavily on it, while the democracy movement relied heavily on its support and intelligence. The office and its incumbent now face a new kind of pressure, one that is perhaps even stronger. But among this dismal picture there are still individuals who are not bereft of character and moral courage—for instance, the abbot of Mansu Shan monastery, who sheltered Muslim families when violence shook Lashio. These individuals embody this country’s real strength and hope for a promising future.
Khin Zaw Win is the director of the Tampadipa Institute in Rangoon.
The Opening Ceremony of Bogyoke Aung San’s Birthday Centennial friendly soccer tournament was held at the Aung San Stadium in Yangon on January 25, 2015. The Soccer match was organized to mark the 100th anniversary of Bogyoke Aung San’s birthday. Altogether (8) soccer teams will participate in this tournament. Photos by Tin SUN
This is (6) Minutes Video Highlights of "30 Dreams Connie" Live Music Show of Connie, was staged at the National Theater in Yangon on January 23, 2015. Myanmar well-known singer, Connie organized the show as a mark of her 30 years career life in Myanmar music industry as a prominent vocalist.
This is an exclusive video of "30 Dreams Connie" Live Music Show of Connie, was staged at the National Theater in Yangon on January 23, 2015. Myanmar well-known singer, Connie organized the show as a mark of her 30 years career life in Myanmar music industry as a prominent vocalist.
Here are snapshots of the 51th Birthday Party of Zaw Win Htut, Famous Rock Singer, was grandly celebrated on January 21, 2015 at Novotel Hotel in Yangon. Zaw Win Htut is a Burmese rock, country, and blues singer, and the lead vocalist of the band Emperor. Photos by Wai Yan
MANDALAY — More than 100 people set out on a march from Mandalay to Rangoon on Tuesday, as student leaders restarted a dormant campaign to protest the National Education Law.
In November, student groups had called a 60-day moratorium after four days of countrywide protests against the law. In the interim, student groups requested the establishment of a 15-member committee comprising students, government leaders, parliamentarians and the National Network for Education Reform to discuss changes to the law. The moratorium expired on Friday without an official response, leading to students traveling from as far afield as Monywa, Sagaing and Pakokku to join the march.
“We received no responses from the government during those 60 days,” said Ei Thinzar Maung, a member of the Mandalay District Student Union. “That’s why we have resumed protests, to draw attention of the government to the need to democratically amend the National Educational Law.”
The overhaul of the country’s education system was passed by Parliament in Sept. 2014, in the face of strong criticism from students and educators.
Student groups have presented a number of demands for the bill’s overhaul, including a legislative guarantee for the free establishment of student and teacher unions independent of the government, changes to the exam and entrance systems at the universities, the introduction of ethnic languages, and a modernization of the syllabus at basic education schools and universities.
“The government needs to increase the budget allocation for education to 20 percent, and student activists removed from school need to be allowed to return to the classroom,” said Min Thwe Thit, one of the protesting students. “Hopefully the government will listen to us and they will amend the law for the sake of our future education. If not, we will have to continue nationwide protests until our demands are met.”
The students say they plan to link up with other protesters during the 650-kilometer (404-mile), 15-day journey to Rangoon. Upon arrival, they intend to establish a protest camp which will urge the government to negotiate with students and teachers over future changes to the law.
RANGOON — President Thein Sein has continued to defer on six-party constitutional reform discussions, handballing the proposal back to the legislature with a statement issued to the Union Parliament on Monday.
Arguing that the six-party proposal lacked detail and a specific framework for how constitutional issues would be discussed, the President’s statement also suggested that the six-party proposal represented too narrow a cross-section of Burmese society for meaningful dialogue.
As the political discussions would have a national impact, it was “advisable that other people participate in addition to parliamentary representatives, the government and the military,” the statement read.
The six-party proposal was originally tabled last November by lawmaker Myint Tun of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), who urged a meeting between President Thein Sein, Burma Army Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, the speakers of the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament, National League for Democracy (NLD) Leader Aung San Suu Kyi and a member of the ethnic nationality parties to discuss constitutional reforms.
The proposal, unanimously endorsed by the Union Parliament, prompted a call for 12-party talks from the Rangoon Division Parliament, which was subsequently dismissed by the NLD as a stalling tactic, and a request for multi-party talks from the Sagaing Parliament, where lawmakers there hoped to expand local and ethnic representation in constitutional talks.
At the end of last month, over 10,000 people in the northern Shan State township of Naung Cho rallied against the six-party proposal, asking for more ethnic representation in charter discussions. The event was reported prominently in government newspapers, which rarely carry news on public protests.
In Monday’s statement, President Thein Sein said he was prepared to abide by the decision of the Union Parliament on constitutional matters, as long as reform was enacted according to the provisions of the 2008 military-drafted Constitution, and provided that lawmakers took the decisions of divisional parliaments and the desires of ethnic minorities into consideration.
NLD spokesman Nyan Win said that the statement showed that the President accepted the idea of six-party talks in principle, which was a sign of progress in establishment of a forum for constitutional discussion.
Political commentator Dr.Yan Myo Thein, on the other hand, told The Irrawaddy it appeared the government was deliberately stalling the proposal by continually requesting details of the framework.
“There are many difficult issues in the country, like amending the 2008 Constitution, negotiating a nationwide ceasefire agreement and ensuring the 2015 elections are free and fair. Each of these issues are difficult enough on their own to warrant [six-party] political dialogue. The government is deliberately postponing this dialogue by asking for more details,” he said.
Suu Kyi told media in Naypyidaw before Tuesday’s pa
Here are snapshots of Thee Lay Thee A Nyeint Performance at the Opening Day of Nobel-Myanmar Literary Festival, was held at National Theater in Yangon on the last day of festival, January 19, 2015. Photos Tin SUN