A decision would be taken after a review, he said, calling the attack an act of cyber-vandalism, not of war.
North Korea denies the attack over The Interview, which depicts the fictional killing of its leader Kim Jong-Un.
Sony cancelled the Christmas Day release after threats to cinemas. It is considering "a different platform".
In a CNN interview, President Obama described the hacking as a "very costly, very expensive" example of cyber-vandalism.
He said US officials would examine all the evidence to determine whether North Korea should be put back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
"I'll wait to review what the finding are," Mr Obama said, adding that he did not think the attack "was an act of war".
RANGOON — Ten Muslims were sentenced on Wednesday for their role in deadly inter-communal riots in Thandwe, Arakan State, late last year, according to their lawyer.
Defense lawyer Thein Nyunt told The Irrawaddy that three of those convicted were sentenced to life in prison, which typically carries 20 years in jail before eligibility for parole.
The three sentenced to life were found guilty of murder under Article 302 of Burma’s Penal Code. They were also charged under Article 326, causing hurt by means of an instrument or weapon which could cause death, which holds a maximum sentence of 10 years.
In this case, the 10 year sentence was added to their life sentences, meaning they will serve at least 30 years in jail.
Six others were convicted under Article 326, all of them sentenced to seven years in jail.
One woman was sentenced to one year in prison under Article 201 for causing evidence to disappear or providing false information about an offense.
At least seven people died and more than 100 homes were burned to the ground when violence broke out between Buddhist communities and three Kaman villages over five days beginning in late September 2013. The Kaman are a Muslim minority that mostly live in Arakan State.
More than 60 people were charged for their involvement, at least 23 of them were Muslim. The various charges included murder, injury by weapon, arson, obstruction of official duty, incitement and abetting crime.
This week’s ruling brings the total number of reported convictions related to the incident up to 20. All ten of those convicted on Wednesday were Muslim, their lawyer said.
Thandwe is known mostly as a transit hub for tourists visiting the secluded and idyllic Ngapali beach. Since mid-2012, however, Arakan State has been host to several bouts of rioting between ethnic Arakanese Buddhists and minority Muslims.
While stateless Rohingya Muslims in northern Burma were the most affected, other legally recognized Muslim minorities, such as Kaman, have also been the targets of violence. Anti-Muslim violence since the initial outbreak has left about 140,000 people displaced and hundreds dead nationwide.
When violence shook Thandwe on Sept. 29, 2013, three contiguous Muslim villages were affected leaving five Muslims and two Buddhists dead, more than 100 homes destroyed and about 500 Kaman villagers displaced. A 94-year-old Kaman woman was among those murdered.
Eight Muslims and six Buddhists still await trial for arson related to the Thandwe riots. In total, four people have been sentenced to life for the deaths.
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on Friday accused North Korea’s government of masterminding a “destructive” cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, pledging to bring those responsible to justice.
The attack in late November, which targeted Sony’s computer systems and stole large quantities of personal and commercial data, led the movie studio to cancel its Christmas release of the film “The Interview,” which depicted a fictional attempted assassination of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un.
A group calling itself the “Guardians of Peace” had claimed responsibility for the attack and subsequently issued threats against Sony, its employees and theaters that planned to distribute the film.
The FBI’s accusation marked the first time the U.S. has directly accused another country of carrying out a cyberattack on American soil.
“The FBI now has enough information to conclude that the North Korean government is responsible for these actions,” the agency said in a statement.
“North Korea’s actions were intended to inflict significant harm on a U.S. business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves. Such acts of intimidation fall outside the bounds of acceptable state behavior.”
The accusation came as U.S. President Barack Obama said Washington “will respond” to the attack, condemning the North’s efforts to “impose censorship” in America.
A local employment agency is still sending Myanmar women to Hong Kong as domestic workers despite a government ban, labour activists say. Labour Rights Clinic says it has reported the case to the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
The government banned agencies from sending Myanmar citizens to Hong Kong as domestic workers in May and Singapore in September, after a series of scandals about the mistreatment of migrant workers engaged in such jobs.
But now two women recruited to go to Hong Kong before the ban came into effect have accused the agency of pressing them to fulfil their contracts though they no longer wish to take up the posts, according to LRC liaison officer U Chit Oo Mg. He named the agency concerned as Gold Mine.
“[Domestic workers] don’t want to go any more because they know it’s illegal and because they will have to repay the service charges in instalments over a long period,” he said.
A Gold Mine spokesperson confirmed to The Myanmar Times that the agency had sent some domestic workers to Hong Kong in November. He said that in November 2013 the government had permitted the company to send 200 to Hong Kong but only 150 had been sent to date. The remaining 50 workers will be sent in accordance with the company’s permit, which he said remains valid despite the ban.
“We’ve already got the visas and the workers have completed their training and asking us every day when they can leave,” said the spokesperson. “The training took three months and now they are just waiting at home for the green light to go.”
He said the financial consequences for not sending the women could be high: Gold Mine’s partner in Hong Kong, Golden Mine, was already facing legal action from some angry employers because workers had not arrived on time.
“The Hong Kong visas are only valid for three months, and if we miss the expiry date we will lose our money,” he said.
Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation general secretary U Kyaw Htin Kyaw said the ministry had shown “mercy” and let Gold Mine continue to send workers according to its November 2013 permit because of the financial problems the company will face if it does not fulfil its contract.
The Ministry of Labour declined to comment when contacted last week. It is unclear how many other agencies received permits to send workers to Hong Kong, but LRC said Gold Mine is the only one still sending them.
Myanmar sent its first batch of domestic workers to Hong Kong in February and the 19 young women were to be the first of several hundred to arrive within three months. However, their arrival coincided with protests over the alleged torture of an Indonesian housekeeper by her employer. The scandal made headlines across the globe, the employer was arrested and the maid, Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time magazine. The case meant the Myanmar group received an unusually high level of media attention and shortly after the first group arrived the ministry abruptly called a halt to the program.
The decision to stop sending workers to Singapore, meanwhile, was equally surprising, as it came while the MOEAF was preparing to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with its Singaporean counterparts to increase the number of workers going to the city-state from 300 a month to 1000.
MOEAF vice chair U Soe Myint Aung told The Myanmar Times at the time that the government was concerned about reports of exploitation. “The ministry wants stricter supervision of agencies employing domestic workers” he said.
U Kyaw Htin Kyaw said he believed domestic workers should be allowed to go to Hong Kong because working conditions were better than in Singapore.
“It’s not easy for a local woman to earn K500,000 a month. Hong Kong would be a good place for them,” he said.
But Ma Sandar Htwe, who signed a contract with Gold Mine to work in Hong Kong, says she no longer wishes to go.
However, she says Gold Mine has threatened to charge her a penalty of K1.6 million (about US$1660) for breaking the contract if she refuses.
“We’ve heard bad things about Hong Kong. My mother is worried and doesn’t want me to go there anymore. But we can’t afford K1.6 million,” she said.
A Gold Mine spokesperson said it had not sued any workers but did expect those who completed the training program to still go to Hong Kong. The company has sent notice letters to those who completed the training and later stopped communicating with Gold Mine.
“We are not a charity, but we also didn’t treat these poor people unfairly,” he said. “If they are not ready to go, we can give them more time. But some of them have just ignored us.”
The Asian Development Bank will lend Singapore-listed, Myanmar-focused Yoma Strategic Holdings US$100 million to develop infrastructure businesses inside the country.
The funds will come in two tranches, with the first $50 million earmarked to fund Yoma Strategic’s cold storage, cell tower and vehicle leasing businesses. The second tranche is for subprojects in transportation, logistics, distribution and other sectors.
Yoma Strategic currently generates the majority of its revenue from property, though CEO Andrew Rickards has said the firm would like to see this change to a 50-50 split between revenue from property and other sectors by 2020.
The firm has begun working in areas outside real estate, including the three businesses financed by the first tranche of the ADB’s loan.
It is a partner in a cell tower company with Digicel Asian Holdings, has agreed to set up a cold storage logistics business with Kokubu and Co and also set up a subsidiary called Yoma Fleet for a vehicle operating lease and rental business in January 2014, all of which are to benefit from the agreement with the ADB.
Yoma Strategic chair Serge Pun said the firm has more projects in its pipeline, adding infrastructure is a large constraint for the country at the moment.
“Myanmar has a lot of opportunity and we all know that,” he said. “But these opportunities cannot be realised to their full potential unless we have the infrastructure that supports it.”
Mr Thieme said it is a medium-term loan, adding it was up to the borrower to disclose the interest rate and term. Mr Pun did not comment on the interest rate and term.
Yoma Strategic also recently announced it is bringing KFC to Myanmar and was part of a consortium that inked a deal to upgrade Mandalay airport.
They say an "unusual amount" of people online have put money on Her Majesty giving up the throne and handing it down to a younger generation.
Six people - within 10 minutes - waged a bet on it today.
There have been similar bets placed before but it's the fact these recent ones were made in "quick succession" which "set alarm bells ringing".
Buckingham Palace told Newsbeat: "We would not directly comment on a bookmaker's work."
RANGOON — A team formed by the Burmese government to investigate the Koh Tao case has announced that it is confident the two Burmese nationals accused of the double murder are innocent of the crime.
Three members of a special support team operating out of the Burmese Embassy in Thailand told a press conference on Thursday that Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, both 21, would be exonerated of the September murder of British tourists Hannah Witheridge and David Miller in Koh Tao, but it will take time, money and effort for the truth to be fully revealed.
“However the Thai judiciary decides on the case, it is our belief that these two kids did not commit the crime,” said Htoo Chit, a spokesman for the investigation. “According to what we know and eyewitness information we have gathered, we believe they are innocent.”
As a longtime migrant rights activist and executive director of the Foundation for Education and Development, Htoo Chit said that the case against the pair had important ramifications for migrant workers in Thailand from across the region.
“This case is not only about Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun,” he said. “This is also about protecting the rights of millions of migrants from Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar who came to work in Thailand due to economic hardship.”
Aung Myo Thant, a Burmese lawyer who is part of the Burmese Embassy’s special support team for the defendants, told the press conference that the translator used during the police interrogation of the suspects falsely claimed to be a representative of the embassy, and told the suspects that they would be subject to a lighter penalty if they admitted their guilt.
“According to the Thai law, the translator used in Police station and court must hold a certificate recognized by the state,” he said. “But the translators used in Surat Thani and in Koh Samui had no accreditation.”
The investigating team said they had identified at least three key witnesses for the defense case in Rakhine State, Sagaing Division and Tenasserim Division, but they are unwilling to testify for fear it will jeopardize their future chances of working in Thailand.
“Cooperation from migrants living at [Koh Tao] is also weak,” said Htoo Chit. “They could be threatened. This is our main challenge. If a witness came forward who knew the events and testified, this case could be turned upside down.”
The Thai National Human Rights Commission, Lawyers Council of Thailand and various individuals have also assisted the Burmese government’s investigating team in locating witnesses. Htoo Chit expressed confidence that the upcoming trial would vindicate the pair if conducted fairly.
“We will win if this case is conducted with justice under the rule of law,” Htoo Chit said.
Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun were indicted on Dec. 4 and pleaded not guilty to all charges. A preliminary hearing for the pair will be held on Dec. 26.
RANGOON — Philip Blackwood, a New Zealand national arrested last week after distributing materials deemed to be inflammatory, was arraigned along with his two local business partners at a Rangoon court on Thursday.
Blackwood’s defense lawyer Mya Thwe told The Irrawaddy just outside the Bahan Township Courthouse that his client now faces three charges including two counts of insulting religion and one count of disobeying orders.
Mya Thwe said that Blackwood will be charged in accordance with Burma’s existing laws, and that he could face four years in jail.
“He acted against our existing laws, but he apologized,” said Mya Thwe, predicting that his client will likely be convicted.
Blackwood pleaded not guilty to all charges. He was denied bail and is being held in Rangoon’s infamous Insein Prison, where he has been detained since his arrest.
On Dec. 10, police arrested Tun Thurein, owner of V Gastro Bar, and managers Htut Ko Ko Lwin and Blackwood after an image posted on the venue’s Facebook page went viral.
The image was an illustration advertising an event, picturing the Buddha wearing headphones against a psychedelic backdrop. Some internet Internet users found the image offensive to Burma’s dominant religion, Buddhism.
All three men now face charges for violation of articles 295, 295(a) and 188 of Burma’s Penal Code. The first two charges pertain to destruction, damage or defilement of sacred places or objects with intent or knowledge that the action could cause insult.
Article 188, under a chapter of the Penal Code covering contempt of authority, pertains to disobeying an order issued by a public servant. The defense attorney said the charge related to keeping the V Gastro Bar open after authorized hours.
All three defendants are set to appear in court again on Dec. 26.
Blackwood’s case has drawn the attention of foreigners and locals alike, as both brace to see how the courts will handle sensitive cases related to religious offense. The past two years in Burma have seen often deadly violence between its majority Buddhist and minority Muslim populations, giving rise to nationalist and sometimes extremist sentiments.
Ethnic and religious tension fortified a broad movement to strengthen the country’s Buddhist identity, manifesting in powerful syndicates like the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, known locally as Ma Ba Tha.
Members of the group turned up in droves outside the courthouse on Thursday to voice their opinions on the case. One member, Win Thein, told The Irrawaddy that he felt a responsibility to see the case through.
“We [Buddhists] have a duty to come here,” he said, “We need to watch this case closely. We cannot decide to punish [the defendants], but we have our own lawyers. Our lawyers will do the work if we are not happy about the court’s decision.”
Some expressed concern that Blackwell could set a precedent of culturally insensitive behavior among foreigners.
“They should be sentenced to prison. If not, more and more people will hurt our religion,” said a 40-year-old woman standing in front of the courthouse, donning a Ma Ba Tha tT-shirt. “If we don’t protect [Buddhism] it will disappear.”
Blackwell and his colleagues said in a statement shortly after their arrest that they “would like to express our sincere regret if we have offended the citizens of this wonderful city… Our intention was never to cause offense to anyone or toward any religious group. Our ignorance is embarrassing for us and we will attempt to correct it by learning more about Myanmar’s religions, culture and history.”
The Yoma Strategic Holdings conglomerate has cultivated an enormous portfolio of real estate, agriculture, tourism, banking, automotive and retail businesses in Burma over the last two decades. As of December this year, the company’s market capitalization was US$692 million, and it ranks in the top five percent of Singapore Exchange-listed companies on the 2014 Governance and Transparency Index. Yoma recently secured a $100 million loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for infrastructure development projects in Burma.
Serge Pun, executive chairman of Yoma Strategic Holdings, spoke to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday to discuss the recent ADB loan, the resumption of full services at Yoma Bank, and the need to balance the rights of landowners and the needs of developers in an overheated property market which is also seeing an increasing number of land disputes.
Question: How were you able to secure a loan from the ADB for your business projects?
Answer: The ADB has aimed to support Myanmar’s development projects before. They required us to satisfy criteria before granting us a loan, including corporate governance, social responsibility, and measures to avoid corruption and money laundering. We’re satisfied to be working with them.
Q: Why did Yoma Bank resume banking services after an 11-year suspension? Is it true that the International Finance Corporation is now assisting Yoma Bank with the provision of banking services?
A: As you would know, after the bankruptcy in 2003 [which occurred during Burma’s banking crisis], we halted banking services and only offered money transfers across the nation because the government revoked our banking license. Our license was restored in the middle of this year. We have assistance from the International Finance Corporation now. But we’re 10 years behind [our competitors] so we’re trying to catch up now.
Q: You have significant real estate investments in Burma. Do you believe that current land laws in Burma are suitable for both landowners and developers?
A: There are many land issues, and there will be definitely many conflicts between landowners and developers while the problems are solved. Other countries are also facing similar problems; the main thing is how to find a solution. It would be good to see a land rights bill passed by the Parliament. It’s the right time.
Many farmers who have worked the same paddy fields for decades do not have ownership records, so they can’t mortgage their properties and get financial assistance from other organizations. In the [current Farmlands Act], farmers can get ownership records and do more than they could in the past. It’s a good law but it should not be used to force developers to pay unfair compensation to landowners.
There are many things to do to further the country’s development. For example, connectivity: if the highway system doesn’t improve, it will take more time for trade to flow from one place to another.
While some people will benefit from development, there are risks for some people. We will have to decide that these people will be treated fairly by the law. We will have to see how to solve the problem posed when some people want their land to remain unaffected by development—by law, if they are motivated by individual interest, they will have to make a sacrifice.
Q: Have you ever had these kinds of issues before or are you currently working through such problems?
A: I’ve seen a lot of land issues before. Landowners [subject to seizures] said they want the “current market price”—but what is the current market price? Where does it come from? For example, there is a project underway in Dala Township, and people have been making significant purchases of land there. They will inflate the market, selling to each other. What did these people do to help develop Dala Township before? They did nothing but they’re likely to get a profit because of market speculation.
Farmers who say they want market prices…is it possible to give them these amounts? If we pay this amount, no one will be able to buy an apartment on the land later. When we started working on real estate in Hlaing Tharyar Township 20 years ago, it only cost three million kyats (US$2,910). Right now, the market value is 600 million kyats ($582,000), so nobody will come to invest in the industrial zone.
The government needs to know and be made aware of the needs of business people. If we’re implementing a project, we have to fairly compensate farmers. There should be a body formed to decide appropriate compensation amounts.
Q: Do you think the real estate market in Burma is currently experiencing a bubble?
A: The definition of a bubble is fake demand in a market. It’s not a real market, it’s a speculative market. We have a very strong labor-intensive industry but we don’t have the infrastructure for high tech industry. Low cost labor-intensive industries can’t support expensive land plots. [So] the bubble will definitely burst.
There is some demand in residential areas, but if developers build apartments on expensive land, following standard building codes, will that stay affordable for buyers? Who will buy them? As long as buyers can pay, it will continue, but when they can’t buy, the bubble will burst.
Q: Are people still paying exorbitant amounts for land in Burma?
A: Yes, some people are still able to afford to pay these amounts in residential areas. For example, at my Star City housing project in Thanlyin Township, the land prices are about 150,000 kyats ($145) per square foot. In our experience, this is about the maximum [that property buyers can afford].
Office rental costs are another issue; rental prices in Yangon today are higher than in Singapore. It has stayed this high because of low supply and high demand. The rental price downtown is nine dollars per square foot. Some people can afford to pay, but most can’t.
Myanmar’s economic reform process has not yet reached its goal, Parliamentary Speaker Thura U Shwe Mann told business people and media at a meeting at the office of the Hlinethaya Industrial Zone on December 13.
“Our country needs to carry out more and more reform processes. Although the nation is satisfied with the political reform processes, it needs to carry out much more reform in the economic and social sectors,” he said.
Thura U Shwe Mann said that it is necessary to review the success of the government’s reform of the economic system. This is important if local entrepreneurs are to cooperate with the government in helping raise local and foreign investment in the country.
Local economists claim the reason why foreign company investment is limited at present is due to problems with infrastructure and rules and regulations.
Economist U Maw Than said that he felt there are great expectations for a flow of foreign investment into the country.
“In my view, we need to attract more foreign investors to the country,” he said.
Local garment entrepreneur U Aye Thaung said that despite the growing list of foreign investors, much of the foreign company input is at the small and medium enterprise level, rather than major projects.
U Zaw Min Win, vice president of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, claimed the delay in economic development and foreign investment was the result of the weak points in the government’s economic policies and worry amongst the international community about Myanmar’s business laws and politics.