Suu Kyi denies ethnic cleansing of #Myanmar minority

Aung San Suu Kyi has denied the ethnic cleansing of Myanmar’s Muslim minority, speaking to the BBC after the UN rights council agreed to investigate allegations against the army.

“I don’t think there is ethnic cleansing going on. I think ethnic cleansing is too strong an expression to use for what is happening,” Suu Kyi said in the interview televised on Wednesday.

Her one-year-old government has faced international condemnation for the treatment of the country’s Rohingya Muslims, who are regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, prompting the UN rights council to agree last month to launch an investigation into violations against the minority.

The Geneva-based body’s fact-finding mission will examine allegations of torture, murder and rape allegedly committed by troops.

Suu Kyi told the BBC there was “a lot of hostility” in the western state of Rakhine, where more than one million Rohingya live.

“It is Muslims killing Muslims, as well, if they think they are collaborating with authorities.

“It is not just a matter of ethnic cleansing. It is a matter of people on different sides of a divide, and this divide we are trying to close up. As best as possible and not to widen it further,” she said.

Myanmar has launched its own domestic probe into possible crimes in Rahkine and appointed former UN chief Kofi Annan to head a commission tasked with healing long-simmering divisions between Buddhists and Muslims.

Suu Kyi said the army was “not free to rape, pillage and torture”.

“They are free to go in and fight. And of course, that is in the constitution… Military matters are to be left to the army,” she said, adding that she aimed to amend the constitution.

Almost 75,000 people from the persecuted minority have escaped to Bangladesh after the military launched operations in the north of Rakhine state to find Rohingya militants who raided police border posts in October.

Rohingya who have fled have told the UN rights office that soldiers executed babies in front of their mothers, as part of campaign to terrorise the Muslim minority.

“If they come back they will be safe,” said Suu Kyi, adding that those who fled were welcome to return.

Her National League for Democracy (NLD) faced the ballot box on Saturday in by-elections across the country, winning a string of seats but losing out in ethnic minority areas including Rakhine.

The NLD came to power in a historic 2015 election which ended half a century of brutal military rule, but there has been disillusionment with the administration as it struggles to push through reforms and ease unrest.

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Top Myanmar retailer to launch e-wallet with Thai technology

AS MYANMAR has enjoyed a dramatic increase in the number of data users over the past three years, its leading retailer City Mart Holding Ltd plans to launch its first e-wallet service in mid-2017 with the support of T2P, a Thai FinTech company belonging to Benjachinda Holding.

Win Win Tint, founder and managing director of CMHL, said in an exclusive interview that the firms recently signed a memorandum of understanding to form a joint venture. According to the pact, T2P will share its experience in developing both fintech and customer-loyalty program of the retailer by providing the technology to run its loyalty and online wallet platform.

She said the joint venture’s first product would be City Rewards, a loyalty program-me that will give customers various rewards when they shop at the retailer’s stores. Bundled together is an online wallet which users can use to make payments at its online and offline stores.

According to Win Win Tint, the retailer picked the Thai firm as its partner because only a few players have expertise in both fintech |and loyalty programmes, which fits with its plans.

“We will be launching our online store by the middle of this year to give customers more options for their shopping … We will start with our consumers first to make their shopping experience in our stores more convenient,” she said.

She promised to continue exploring ways to make consumers’ shopping experience as seamless and convenient as possible by ensuring they get the best value and variety. 

“Our efforts with T2P will enable us to introduce new services such as online shopping and self check-out,” she said.

According to the Ministry of Transport and Communications, the number of data users in Myanmar has risen 20 fold – from 2 per cent to more than 40 per cent – since the nation allowed foreign telecom operators to enter in 2014. 

But the World Bank estimates that less than 20 per cent of the population uses formal financial services.

Yet, as one of the 50th most powerful business women in Asia ranked by Forbes in 2015, Win Win Tint is pretty bullish about the transformation from a cash-dominated society to a cashless one.

“More than 99 per cent of our store transactions are in cash. We do not expect a quick change in the short run but remain ambitious about the mobile wallet,” she said.

“To the general consumer, cash is very convenient and ubiquitous, hence it will take time for the usage of e-wallets to grow. Therefore, we are bundling it with the rewards program for that to gain faster traction,” she added.

Founded in 1996, the retailer has more than 200 outlets across the nation, including fast-food restaurants, bookstores, convenience stores and supermarkets. 

Recently, the retailer opened its 22nd supermarket in Insein township in Yangon. 

According to the International Finance Corporation (IFC), Myanmar’s US$12-billion (Bt420 billion) retail sector is currently predominantly informal, with formal retailers holding less than 10 per cent of the market. However, economic growth and the opening up of the market after years of isolation have boosted demand for consumer goods. 

Last year, CMHL received a $25-million loan from the IFC to support its expansion plans, which aim to increase its purchases from domestic suppliers by six fold, reaching around $150 million by 2021, and create nearly 4,000 new jobs – half of which will be for women. The retailer currently employs more than 8,000 staff. 

 Source: TheNation

Exploring the delights of the Eastern and Oriental Express

Exploring the delights of the Eastern and Oriental Express

Eastern and Oriental Express, the luxury tourist train, played host to a lavish evening cocktail party in Bangkok on Monday, February 13, giving the Thai media a short but very luxurious ride that started at Bangkok’s Hualampong Station.

The three-hour ride allowed guests to discover the services and hospitality of Eastern and Oriental Express. 

Cocktails, finger foods and music from DJs and the piano bar fuelled the cocktail reception, which was already in swing as the locomotive pulled out of Bangkok’s main station. 

The Eastern and Oriental Express is run by the British hotel and leisure firm Belmond, formerly known as Orient-Express Hotels.

The luxurious tourist train offers a travel opportunity of a lifetime through its classic routes – Bangkok to Singapore and vice versa. It journeys through the countryside of Malaysia and Thailand stopping off at some fascinating destinations. 

In Thailand the tourist train travels further to Kanchanaburi Province, where tourists can see the famous Bridge of the River Kwai spanning the river dividing Thailand and Myanmar.

Tuesday’s cocktail event allowed guests to have a sneak preview of the luxurious cabins (sleepers), which range from the Pullman Cabin made for the solo traveler to the State and President cabins for two sharing.

All rooms have ensuite facilities. The cabins feature wood and lacquered panels with floral motifs and wooden floors that reflect the exotic East. 

The party reached its highest point as guests gathered in the main bar where the resident pianist, saxophonist and vocalist entertained with cool jazz. –

Phoowadon Duangmee, TheNation

Myanmar (Burma) – The land that time forgot

Once the bustling imperial capital of Burmese Kingdoms, the ancient city of Inwa is now in ruins but still a great place to spend a day

Perched on the left bank of the Ayeyarwaddy River in Upper Myanmar, Inwa – or Angwa as it is known in Thai – must surely be the best-known ancient kingdom among Thais. The imperial capital of successive Burmese kingdoms from the 14th to 19th centuries, it was from Inwa that King Hsinbyushin began a two-year assault on Ayutthaya in 1765 that resulted in the collapse of Siam’s capital. Less than 70 years later Angwa was completely destroyed in turn, the victim of several earthquakes. As Maroon 5 put it, “Nothing lasts forever”. 

Ravaged by war and tremors, Inwa today is scarcely larger than a rural backwater dotted with ruins, monastic buildings and stupas. Daytrippers travel from Mandalay to the old city, enjoying a trip back in time as they try to imagine the city’s previous grandeur from the remains of its watchtowers, city walls, monasteries and temples.

“Visitors jump into horse-drawn carts or make their own way around the old city,” says Khin, my local guide in Inwa. 

I opt for the horse and cart and immediately feel worlds apart from the hustle and bustle of Mandalay. Myanmar’s countryside is charming with rice paddy fields and banana plantations stretching as far as the eye can see. The ruins of stupas and abandoned monasteries roll along like a slide show. The driver slows the horses as we arrive in Inwa proper and pulls over in front of a wooden building with huge posts and a multi-tiered roof.

“This is Bagaya Monastery. The entire building is made of teak,” begins Khin, as we head towards the entrance. “It was a Buddhist school during the Inwa period.”

The grand monastery boasts 267 teak posts, the guide continues, the largest of which is almost three metres in circumference. Each post is 20 metres high. Undoubtedly Bagaya Monastery is the pride of Inwa and I find it easy to imagine hundreds of monks and novices praying here. The monastery today is shaky and worn but it’s still beautiful and worth a visit. 

The Burmese might have been ruthless as they marched from Inwa to Ayutthaya but they also had a strong artistic side, particularly when it came to woodwork. The entire monastery is decorated with figurines, arabesques and reliefs of birds and animals as well as small pillars all beautifully carved in teak.

From Bagaya Monastery, we ask the cart driver where we can stop for lunch and meet some residents. He pulls over at a roadside restaurant, where several locals, their faces covered with Thanaka, are tucking into noodles, sweet tea and bean cake. They welcome us with smiles and friendly nods.

Within walking distance from the restaurant are Yadana Hsimi Pagodas. Here, under the canopy of a huge Banyan tree is a beautiful Buddha image surrounded by what remains of a group of small stupas and what remains of a prayer hall. 

“The temple was reduced to rubble by the 1839 earthquakes,” says the local guide. “Only some beautiful stone lintels and Buddha images survived around the ruins.”

Back in our personal carriage, the driver guides his horse through peanut and banana plantations. Some farmers are busy clearing weeds, while others balance earthen pots and basketful of grass on their heads.

Finally, we arrive at Maha Aung Mye Bon Zan Monastery. Unlike Bagaya Monastery, where every single piece is made of wood, this huge Buddhist temple is built of stucco-covered brick. The monastery survived the earthquake in 1839 but time has taken its toll on the huge temple. Yet it is attractive in a strange way and in summer, the guide says, its ultra-thick walls provide a welcome respite from the midday sun. 

In fact, Maha Aung Mye Bon Zan Monastery is a very rare survivor of the Inwa era. Just to the East of the main hall is a group of whitewashed pagodas with shimmering gilded umbrellas. Behind them is the lookout for Sagaing – another ancient capital nestled on the Ayeyarwaddy River.

In terms of exotic glamour, Inwa is truly a city lost in the mists of time. 

Some visitors don’t take the horse carriage at all, but prefer to travel on foot. With map in hand and plenty of time, they explore the ancient city on foot. Moving at a slower pace, they enjoy a much more accurate experience of where they are: In essence, the middle of nowhere.

IF YOU GO

Bangkok Airways and AirAsia operate flights between Bangkok and Mandalay. Inwa is about 30 kilometres south of Mandalay.

Sourse: TheNation

We take you to the Pearls of the Orient

CAMBODIA

Siem Reap – Here you will find influences of French colonial and Chinese architecture.

With the Tuk Tuk service to the ancient city of Angkor Thom, to visit Angkor Ta Prohm, one of the famous temples of Cambodia. In the afternoon with a Jeep to the Angkor Wat Temple.

MYANMAR

Mandalay – After arriving in Mandalay you go to Mandalay Hill for magnificent views over the city and Irrawaddy River. In the afternoon you visit Amarapura, ‘the city of immortality. ” During a sunset cruise on Lake Taungthaman overlooking the U Bein Bridge.

Bagan – Departure to Bagan, where you will visit in the afternoon with a horse and carriage the old town. You will enjoy the sunset and an unforgettable view from O Gyan Pe Hill.

Air Balloon Flight Tour by balloon over temples studded plains of Bagan and the Irrawaddy River. In the afternoon, with small local boats a mini cruise on the Irrawaddy River.

VIETNAM

Hanoi – Let you in Vietnam be surprised by culinary delights, local culture and unique means of transport. In Hanoi visit the main attractions of this fascinating city. Visit the Hoa Lo Prison (known as the “Hanoi Hilton”).

Cruise through Halong Bay city tour Hanoi. In the afternoon, you will embark on a 3-day luxury cruise through one of the most beautiful natural bays in the world. Halong Bay is famous for its thousands of small islands and colorful floating villages in an emerald green sea.

Myanmar’s ‘smiling’ Irrawaddy dolphins on brink of extinction

This handout from the Wildlife Conservation Society taken on September 9, 2016 shows an Irrawaddy dolphin jumping in the Irrawaddy river near Mandalay. / AFP PHOTO / Wildlife Conservation Society

SIN KYUN, Myanmar – Tears fill Maung Lay’s eyes as he describes losing the dolphin he knew since his childhood, the latest casualty of a battle against pollution and electrofishing that may see the species disappear in Myanmar.

Loved for generations for corralling the catch into fishermen’s nets, the ‘smiling’ Irrawaddy dolphins are being killed in record numbers by rogue gangs who use car batteries to stun aquatic life.

The illegal technique now threatens to wipe out the dolphins and the tourist bonanza they promise.

Maung Lay’s dolphin, known as Thar Gyi Ma, was found washed up on the banks of the river in November. When locals cut her body open, they found she was pregnant.

“She is irreplaceable because she’s like my own parents. I’m heartbroken,” the 55-year-old told AFP inside his bamboo hut, in a small village a few hours by boat from Mandalay.

“I laid wreaths and flowers for her by the river.”

Irrawaddy dolphins can be found in rivers, lakes and seas across southern Asia, from the northwest Bay of Bengal, in India, to the south of Indonesia.

On this stretch of river in Myanmar the animals have developed a deep bond with local fishermen, who they work with in a generations-old partnership that has become the stuff of local folklore.

With careful choreography, locals call the animals using a throaty purr, splashing their oars and tapping on the side of the boat.

The dolphins signal they are ready to begin with a flick of a fin, before driving the fish towards the fishermen’s boats where they are scooped up by waiting nets.

Maung Lay said he had spent more than 30 years fishing with one group of seven dolphins, led by Thar Gyi Ma.

“I’m sorry for the great loss because she’s the leader of her group,” he said sorrowfully. “The others are not skilled like her.”

Record deaths 

In neighbouring Laos, the Irrawaddy dolphin was declared “functionally extinct” by the World Wildlife Fund in October 2016 after just three individuals were counted during their latest survey.

“There is now little hope for a reversal of the situation,” the WWF said.

In Myanmar, officials say there only 62 Irrawaddy dolphin are thought to be left, after a record three were killed last year.

“We lost the highest number of dolphins (in 2016),” said Jaw Kar, the deputy head of Mandalay’s fishery department during a recent visit by AFP.

He blamed pollution from mining upriver in Kachin state, where chemical-heavy gold prospecting has boomed since the former military government stepped down in 2011.

Run-off from agricultural fertilizers is also thought to be poisoning the water.

But fishermen say the greatest danger comes from rogue gangs who are wiping out river life in their quest for easy money.

Initially these electro-fisherman used small batteries attached to wire wound around bamboo poles to shock fish within a close radius, a cheap and effective way to bolster their catch.

Now locals say they have moved on to using car batteries, high-voltage transformers and trawling nets.

“Even a big buffalo couldn’t stand such an electric shock,” said fisherman Thein San Min, 26, who lives in another village on the river’s edge.

Electrofishing around Mandalay is punishable by up to three years in jail and a fine of 200,000 kyat ($150) — a small fortune for local villagers.

But conservationists say there is little they can do to stop the fishing gangs, who attack anyone daring to venture into their territory.

Villagers refused to take AFP to where the electrofishermen live citing safety concerns.

Broken bond 

For Irrawaddy locals, losing the dolphins is not just about destroying traditions from their past — it threatens their future.

With fish stocks plummeting there are hopes ecotourism will prove a lifeline to bolster meagre incomes.

Visitor numbers have soared in the five years since the end of military rule and authorities are hoping to lure as many as 7.5 million people a year to Myanmar by 2019.

Wildlife Conservation Society ecotourism manager Thant Zin has set up a dolphin-watching programme to attract tourists, which he believes will incentivise locals to protect the animals and their habitat.

He is training villagers from a string of Irrawaddy villages in cooking, hospitality and environmentally responsible guiding.

“This is a very important business for the community,” he said.

But some fishermen fear the electrofishing gangs may already have destroyed the special bond that existed between man and beast.

“Dolphins in the Irrawaddy river used to appear wherever we called them,” Thein San Min said.

“We worry because they won’t come close to us, although we coax them. It seems now we will have to watch them from far away.”

Source: TheNation

What are the tourism trends in 2017?

In January begins the general orientation on the next holiday trips. Fairs help choose, trend watchers look in their crystal ball.

Just about any travel magazine and every holiday site sins on their crystal ball look: what destinations are hot in the New Year, the most attention the list of Lonely Planet, which publishes an annual top 10 countries list, cities and regions.

The top 10 countries

1/ Canada. The country exist 150 years. More importantly, it is full of natural beauty and friendly people.

2/ Colombia. Hooray, it is peace and everyone is welcome.

3 / Finland. Another anniversary. The 100th anniversary is celebrated with exhibitions, cooking feasts and, yes, sauna evenings.

4/ Dominica, Go before it’s too late: the ‘last unspoiled Caribbean island’ come in 2018 the first resorts.

5/ Nepal. Earthquakes have quite thrown back the country. Every tourist who comes, indirectly helping in the reconstruction efforts.

6/ Bermuda. Pink beaches appeal to the imagination, like the fact that the America’s Cup sailing race calling the British island in June.

7/ Mongolia. A new airport, better infrastructure and new hotels: Mongolia is gradually Tourism proof.

8/ Oman. Trump Arabia is becoming more accessible thanks to new hotels and attractions. Eye-catcher is the Musandam peninsula, with fjord-like inlets.

9/ Myanmar. The mysterious land of Southeast Asia has more temples than flats. Upcoming travel destination.

10/ Ethiopia. Exotic, overwhelming and now more accessible thanks to new flight connections.

 

Myanmar boosts incentives for infra development, labour-intensive projects

An advertising billboard of Ooredoo in Yangon. Foreign investment, particularly in the telecoms sector, continues to flow into Myanmar.

Myanmar boosts incentives for infra development, labour-intensive projects

THE MYANMAR Investment Commission, a government body to facilitate both foreign and local investment, has planned plans to provide more incentives for investors in the two areas that are crucial to the country’s growth, labour-intensive industries and infrastructure development, a senior official said.

According to Aung Naing Oo, secretary of Myanmar Investment Commission and director general of the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration, the MIC will also encourage agricultural-based industries, aside from its two priorities.

He also explained about the two things MIC would look at before allowing any investor to do business in Myanmar.However, he said proposed investments had to meet standards. “First, any investment must be in line with our existing laws and regulations. Second, we prefer quality investments rather than trying to improve on the quantity level. For example, if a mega project may bring negative impacts to the country, we do not think it is a good investment,” he said.


LEDSIGNZ

Other things that the government investment agency takes into consideration include a project’s prospects for profitability, how it can improve the national income and revenue, while creating job opportunities. The MIC also considers how a proposed project sits in the international and local market situation, generates demand for domestic consumption, makes use of innovation, and results in the application of relevant technology. A project must also have arrangements to minimize environmental and social impacts.

 During the new government’s term,From April to early October, the MIC has approved 45 foreign investments totaling more than $400 million and 22 citizen investment projects worth about $100 million.

and Ks170 billion.By August 31, Myanmar had approved 1,131 firms from 45 countries for investments of $64.4 billion. China stands as the top investor with 141 firms that have committed to invest $18.1 billion, followed by Singapore (214 firms, $13.5 billion) and Thailand (98 firms, $10.6 billion). Among the Top 10 investors are Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Malaysia, the Netherlands, India and Vietnam.

Oil and gas, power, and manufacturing are the sectors in which Myanmar receives the most FDI. These three sectors are followed by transport and communications, real estate, mining, hotels and tourism, livestock and fisheries, agriculture, industrial estate, construction, and other services.

By September, the commission has allowed more than 46,000 local investors and over 5,000 foreign investors to do business. To cope with the increasing activity, MIC staffing was increased from 200 to more than 500 staff during the administration of President Thein Sein.

With the opening of its regional office in Hpa-An township in Kayin state on October 6, MIC now has nine branches, and two more branches will be opened by the end of this year, in the Bago and Magway regions.

“We hope to open branches in every state and region by 2017. If we can expand our network by opening new branches, things will get easier when we do investigation on project sites,” Aung Naing Oo said. He said he was confident that the MIC has the capacity to keep away dirty money.


LEDSIGNZ

“It is impossible to invest in Myanmar with black money, because we usually check the financial documents of all the companies, whether they register under the Foreign Investment Law or with Myanmar Citizens Investment Law,” he said.

Applicants’ finance is thoroughly checked, starting with their bank statements. Only transactions through banks are accepted, and this is under the monitoring of the Central Bank of Myanmar.

“It is really hard to transact black money via recognised banks.”

For investment by local entities, MIC cooperates with the Internal Revenue Department to check if the applicants pay taxes. The commission also has to report to the Home Affairs Ministry if a proposed investment exceeds 100 million kyat (Bt2.6 million), in case the ministry wants to check if money laundering is involved.

“Every investor has to attach necessary documents whenever they submit investment proposal. For example, if an investor submits a proposal to invest 10 million kyat but his bank account shows he possesses less than the proposed budget, we usually investigate how he will earn the remaining amount of money. This may involve a loan from an international organisation or a commercial bank and we may assess how he will manage to pay the interest etc,” Aung Naing Oo said.

Scrutiny in 2 steps

He said a project is scrutinised in two steps. “First, by MIC staff and secondly by the investment proposals assessment committee, which consists of high-ranking officials from relevant departments including ministries of commerce, labour, industry, construction, forestry and environmental conservation, the customs department, the internal revenue department, etc.” he said

“They also review the projects from their own perspective. If all of us are not satisfied with the proposal, we usually ask the investors for clarification and some necessary documents. Only when we all are happy, we will allow them to do business in Myanmar,” he said.

Aung Niang Oo noted that Myanmar welcomes all kinds of investment proposals. But the MIC may be unfamiliar with some projects and has to seek opinions from ministries, which sometimes lead to delays in the approval process.

Issuing permits is merely part of the MIC’s responsibilities. After issuing the permits, it has to check if the investors have followed their commitments in the proposals. This monitoring is the most exhausting process, the official said.

“Nowadays, we have more things to do than ever. We also have to help investors with their exports and imports after they receive the permits. So, our staff are usually super busy. That checking is usually carried out on weekends,” he said.

An investor who does not honour their commitments is liable to four types of penalties. First, a warning will be issued, then incentives like a tax holiday could be revoked. In some cases, a company’s operations will be suspended until the investors can satisfy the MIC. Lastly, a company can be blacklisted.

During the previous government term, two Korean garment factories were forced to shut down businesses for failing to follow the rules.

Source: TheNation

Love without borders

Thai-Myanmar film “TT & Donut” has its premiere in Yangon THE FIRST-EVER cinematic collaboration between Myanmar and Thailand, “TT & Donut”, finally had its premiere last Sunday at the National Theatre of Yangon, drawing a celebrity crowd as well as such VIPs as the Chief Minister of Yangon, the counsellor (commercial) from the Royal Thai […]

via Love without borders — NEWS GURU by G. Tienkamp