June 26, 2019  

Two new flags will be flying high at the Olympic Games in Rio.

For the first time, South Sudan and Kosovo have been recognized by the International Olympic Committee. Kosovo, which was a province of the former Yugoslavia, will have 8 athletes competing; and a good shot for a medal in women's judo: Majlinda Kelmendi is considered a favorite. She's ranked first in the world in her weight class.

(South Sudan's James Chiengjiek, Yiech Biel & coach Joe Domongole, © AFP) South Sudan, which became independent in 2011, will have three runners competing in the country's first Olympic Games.

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus


(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)



Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler



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Entries in Myanmar (15)


This Diwali let's do small things with great love - (PERSPECTIVE) 

(Video: Diwali 101/National Geographic)


- From darkness unto light is the message of Diwali (also known Deepavali); `The Festival of Lights'.

-  During Diwali, “light an oil lamp, sit quietly, shut your eyes, withdraw the senses, concentrate on this supreme light and illuminate the soul,” the message goes.

- The time of year is auspicious. Tradition sees practitioners buying gold and starting new bank accounts.

- The actual day of Diwali, calculated by the luni-solar Hindu calendar, falls this year on Tuesday, November 13. Each of the four days comprising the festival of Diwali is distinguished by a different tradition, but what remains true and constant is the celebration of life, its enjoyment and goodness.

- The illumination of homes with lights and the skies with firecrackers is an expression of obedience to the heavens for the attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace and prosperity.

- The festival holiday is celebrated in India, but also in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Suriname, Malaysia, Singapore and Fiji.

-The day is usually celebrated with a `Ganga Snan' (a good shower) in the morning, prayers, donning new clothes, preparing good vegetarian food, sweets, cultural events at which a number of artists perform, house visits and exchanges of gifts.

By Rahul Verma

(November 13, 2012) - Diwali, the festival of lights and warmth, has different meanings for different people. It is a celebration full of festivities, illumination and lots and lots of sweets. It could be a long-awaited get-together for some friends and families, exchanging of gifts with relatives, friends or business interest to please them. While you are busy celebrating Diwali with sweets and lights, remember that festivals are not only about enjoying or partying with your friends or near and dear ones but also about spreading joy and warmth around and thinking about the deprived and make some contribution towards society according to your capabilities.

(PHOTO: An Indian girl tries to reach a lantern displayed for sale at roadside stalls, in Mumbai, India, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012/Rajesh Kumar SinghWhen everyone is in a festive mood there are some children in hospitals who wake up every morning with a hope that they will soon go home, but sometimes the days become months or years. When the whole world is busy in celebrating the festival of lights there are intravenous tubes that are running to their tiny bodies keeping them bound to the beds of the hospitals.

When we are planning lavish parties or buying white goods, children in hospitals dream of riding a bicycle or playing with friends in a playground and enjoying the festivities with their families.

Unfortunately it becomes a more heart-rending experience for children admitted to government hospitals as when their siblings and friends are enjoying at home they are required to live in hospitals which are in filthy conditions and grossly neglected and one can imagine how difficult it is for a child to come out of the mentality and trauma of being sick. When our children are busy in celebrating Diwali, there are some children who are sharing the same bed with two or three other kids, when every house is decorated with charming rangoli paintings with diyas, and colourful electric bulbs, they are left with a common sight of untidy bed sheets, general waste lying here and there in the corridors with disastrous toilet facilities. More worse is the attitude of the doctors and the sisters, who sometimes showers frustration of being working on a holiday in the hospital. In fact doctors are the most educated person in our society but in majority of the cases in Government hospitals their behavior with the patients is totally ignorant.

(PHOTO: Rangoli decorations, made using coloured powder, are popular during Diwali/Wikipedia)Parents are already in deep shock asking the same question again and again, `God why my child'? They hardly find any friend or a relative visiting them in the hospital when the duration of stay becomes a little longer, yes but for the courtesy sake they will surely call you some time with a message that please let them know if anything required. Also on weekends when they are going to a mall or to watch a movie they will definitely spare some time to meet you with the condition that the hospital `is on the way.

In this era of smart phones, and gadgets it is true that we are progressing, getting sophisticated but perhaps our society is also loosing morality and ethics, there is are very few who are really concerned about destitute section of the society.

While we are busy celebrating Diwali with sweets and lights, we should remember that festivals are about spreading joy around and can always make some contribution towards the society according to our capabilities.

Diwali is an excellent time to start thinking about helping other people, especially who are in urgent need of support and care. This could include providing food, clothing and toys for families to enable them to experience the joys of the Diwali festival. Giving warmth, love and hope. That's what Diwali should be all about.

(PHOTO: Hindu holy men, sit in tractors as they arrive ahead of the Kumbh Mela, in Allahabad, India, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012/Rajesh Kumar Singh)Perhaps we are living in this misconception that spending hundreds thousands on God shall make him happy. Little children battling with life threatening diseases does not require too much but your smile along with few sweets or packets of crayons or a drawing book can bring instant smile on their face, it also boost the morale of the parents, some kind words of yours work as miracle to them.

So let's celebrate this Diwali as a festival of kindness and spread smiles and happiness around by visiting some children in hospitals with, remember what Mother Teresa said "We can do no great things, only small things with great love."

- This opinion piece first appeared in The Times of India. Rahul Verma is co-founder of Uday Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to children with birth defects.


In Northern Myanmar, Kachin Refugees Are Victims of the New Asia (PERSPECTIVE) 

(Video: Irrawaddy News, August, 2011)

By Rowan Jacobsen

LAIZA, Myanmar—Jangma Pri Seng was in the paddy fields, harvesting rice far from her house, when she heard the artillery shells exploding in the distance. Though her stomach always sunk at the sound of explosions, at first she didn’t panic. It was November 2011, five months since the Burmese army had broken a 17-year-old ceasefire agreement with the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and invaded Kachin State, the jagged northern tip of Myanmar that is home to ethnic Kachin like Jangma. For five months, the residents of Nangkyu, Jangma’s village, had been listening to explosions in the hills as the KIO fought desperately to keep the army out of its territory. Several times they had fled into the jungle as the fighting neared, but always Nangkyu had been left alone.

Still, as the only Kachin village in an area dominated by ethnic Shan villages, they knew they were a target. The Burmese authorities, convinced the village was harboring KIO soldiers, had ordered them not to leave the village without permission, and had made a list of all members of the village. No outsiders were allowed to enter. One man caught on the road between villages was arrested and beaten. It was a grim way to live, but as long as they obeyed, they survived.

(PHOTO: Je Yang Refugee Camp/Mizzima)Yet that November evening, when Jangma and her fellow villagers returned exhausted from the fields, they walked into a nightmare. More than twenty artillery shells had struck Nangkyu. Many houses were burning or obliterated. The oldest and youngest citizens of Nangkyu were hiding terrified in the remaining houses. Jangma found her four young children, who were unharmed. Miraculously, no one in the village had been killed, but the animals had not been so lucky. A pigsty had been ripped apart by a direct hit, scattering pig remains across the smoking ground.

And the army was very near.

Jangma and the rest of the villagers immediately grabbed whatever things they could carry and ran into the jungle. They had heard what had happened to other villages that didn’t. “If we had stayed any longer, we’d be dead now,” she says. They hid in the jungle for the next three days, trying to figure out what to do. “It was terrifying. Most people hadn’t brought anything but the clothes they were wearing. We didn’t have enough food. And we could hear troops everywhere. We couldn’t make a sound. We couldn’t even let the kids cry.” Eventually, they made some calls on cell phones to relatives and some friendly Shan neighbors, and a motor-scooter convoy came to the rescue, slipping around the army positions.

They loaded three to four people on each scooter. Jangma helped her 108-year-old grandmother onto a scooter with another villager behind her, holding her tight. In that position, they made the tortuous eight-hour journey over rutted dirt roads to Laiza, capital of the KIO, where they finally collapsed in one of the bursting refugee camps filling the Laiza countryside.


(PHOTO: A young girl walks the corridor at N Hkawng Pa camp in Kachin State/Francis Wade) Walk through any of the refugee camps in KIO territory, and you will find endless stories like Jangma’s. For nearly a year now, Myanmar’s notorious military, which has kept a stranglehold on its citizens since it seized power in a 1962 coup, has been trying to squeeze the life out of the KIO, which has controlled much of Kachin State during those same 50 years.

Though unrecognized by any nation, the KIO has functioned as an independent micro-state. It collects taxes and generates additional income through government-owned mining and logging businesses. It operates immigration departments, police departments, fire departments, drug treatment centers, hydropower plants, bottled-water plants, free schools, free hospitals, Kachin cultural programs, and, of course, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

It has been a lifeline for the Kachin people, who originated in the mountains of Tibet, before migrating centuries ago across the border to Northeast India and eventually occupying the rugged borderlands between India, Myanmar, and China. Despite the lines on the map, the two million Kachin of the region are united by their unique language, religion, and culture. That culture was allowed to flourish in Kachin State, the northernmost region of Myanmar, where the terrain was so rugged and difficult to cultivate that it held no interest for the Burmese, who live in the fertile tropical river plains of southern Myanmar.

(PHOTO: Je Yang Camp/Rowan Jacobsen)Yet now, even as Myanmar opens up to the world and tries to parlay its democratization into an easing of international sanctions and an increase in financial support, it has decided to exterminate the KIO and take brutal control over Kachin State. The timing seems strange, until one understands that Kachin State has transformed from worthless backwater to one of the key geopolitical spots on the planet. The Burmese regime plans to fuel its metamorphosis into a Southeast Asian powerhouse with a series of highways, oil and gas pipelines, and some of the largest hydroelectric dams the world has ever seen, all built in Kachin State. When completed, they will link landlocked sections of India and China with Myanmar’s ports on the Bay of Bengal, and create a new energy-rich nexus for the New Asia, centered right in northern Myanmar. The only thing standing in the way is the Kachin people.

Across Kachin State, villages like Nangkyu are being emptied as the KIA is driven back to its core territory, a 100-mile strip of land along the border with China. As the NGO Human Rights Watch documented in a March 20 report, the army has murdered civilians, tortured men suspected of being KIA members, and raped women. It has ransacked churches, burned entire villages to the ground, killed livestock, and pillaged food supplies. With resupply routes along Myanmar’s crumbling roads difficult at best, the 146 Burmese battalions in the region must feed themselves. It’s no coincidence that the wave of attacks intensified right around harvest time in November. And then there is the most insidious part of the army’s plan: What better way to paralyze your enemy than by sending wave after wave of its own people, hungry and penniless, onto its doorstep?

(PHOTO: A UN convoy on its way to Kachin State in April/UN)Of the 75,000 refugees, mostly Kachin, who have fled the Burmese army since its June invasion, about 40,000 are sheltering in KIO-operated camps. Another 20,000 are living in camps run by the government. The other 15,000 are off the map, likely hiding somewhere in China. Other than two minor exceptions, the government has prevented United Nations relief convoys from reaching the refugees in KIO territory. Some speculate that this is because the government fears the KIO being seen as a caretaker of the refugees, rather than the “insurgents” it labels them. Others believe that the goal is to stress the KIO’s limited resources to the breaking point.


For all the trauma suffered by its residents, Je Yang Camp, the largest of the refugee camps, is a surprisingly pleasant place. 5,764 people, about half under the age of sixteen, live along the banks of the Je Yang River in peace and security, if not exactly comfort. This is a testament to the KIO, which has been anticipating a Burmese offensive for years. A refugee committee was already in place, emergency supplies stockpiled, and land for the main camp had already been chosen, so when the refugees began pouring out of the jungle into Laiza last summer, they were ready.

The KIO had previously donated a large tract of land along the Je Yang River to the Roman Catholic Church to be a wildlife sanctuary - badly needed in this state, whose fabulous hardwood forests are being cut and shipped to supply China’s building boom. Now the church turned around and donated the land back to the KIO, which went to work building bamboo huts, outhouses, and wells. When the first refugees arrived on June 27, two weeks after the fighting had started, they were assigned huts and broken up into village blocks, delineated by a grid of dirt footpaths. Block leaders were chosen. People volunteered for administrative, health, and religious committees. The new people began building huts for the next arrivals.

(PHOTO: Lazing Lu, is a 108-year-old refugee in Laiza/Rowan Jacobsen) Today, Je Yang Camp is a case study in how order can arise from chaos, a living embodiment of the Gilligan’s Island fantasy that an entire society can be built if you have enough bamboo. There are bamboo houses, restaurants, marketplaces, clinics, schools, administrative centers, and weaving centers. There is bamboo furniture and bamboo pigsties. The bamboo Baptist church holds 600 people. Now there is also a concrete stage, a concrete well, and a concrete micro-hydro installation in the river that generates enough power to light the Christmas lights in the church and to power a handful of computers. Acres of gardens line a terraced hillside.

Gaggles of boys splash in the river all day.

Jangma Pri Seng spends her days cooking food, cleaning their shack, which, like most shakcs in the camp, houses three families, each squeezed into a ten-foot square room, and caring for her four children and her grandmother, Lazing Lu, who is an unexpected source of comic relief.

“DID YOU LIKE RIDING ON THE SCOOTER?” Jangma shouts in the deaf woman’s ear.

“I don’t remember,” she responds. “Was that the thing with all the shaking?”


“No! I can’t walk that far.”


“I have nothing to do,” the old woman responds, pausing with perfect timing before breaking into a toothless grin. “It’s so relaxing!”

Part of the reason the camp is so peaceful, says camp director Hting Nam Ja, is because drugs and alcohol are banned. The main evening entertainment is at the churches, which hold a service every night. And every night, people pack into them, sing a few hymns in the Kachin language, and then 5,764 people settle down for an amazingly early and quiet night.

(PHOTO: Camps on hillsides in Kachin State, April/UN)Yet the pleasantness is misleading, says Hting. Just around the corner are the monsoons, the endless rains and winds that last all summer. “What we have won’t survive the rainy season,” he says. The blue tarps tacked to roofs with bamboo strips will be shredded by the winds. “We need corrugated tin. But most of all, we need food and medicine. We have plenty of rice that people have donated, but we have almost no protein. Soon, there will be malnutrition. And when the rains come, so do the waterborne infectious diseases.” The charming, dusty footpaths will become mudpits. The firewood will smolder. And, over everything, looms the constant threat of the Burmese. “Yes, I worry that the army will come,” says Hting. “But there’s nothing I can do about it.”

The refugees also have little choice. They know that, if the army comes, there will be nowhere to run this time. Even if there is a ceasefire, they couldn’t easily return to their villages; having missed the harvest and lost their livestock, they would have no food. Many of them from outlying villages, having been harassed by Burmese soldiers for years, have begun to savor the safety and freedom of living in KIO territory. A few have begun murmuring that—if the KIO survives—it would be nice to see Je Yang take that final step and transform into a permanent town.

Jangma, too, has no illusions about returning to her village anytime soon. “I have no idea how long we’ll stay,” she says, fighting back tears. “I miss my home, I miss being self-sufficient, and I really miss my animals. It’s not perfect here. But we’re out of the rain, we’re not starving, and we’re safe. That’s such a relief. For so long, I had to worry all the time.” When asked if she’d like to send a message to the outside world, she pauses, trying to think of something good, then finally gives up with a shake of her head. “Just have pity on us,” she says.

-- Rowan Jacobsen is the author of five books, including Fruitless Fall, American Terror, and Shadows on the Gulf. His Outside Magazine story "Heart of Dark Chocolate" received the 2011 Lowell Thomas Award from the Society of American Travel Writers for Best Adventure Travel Story of the Year, and his Outside piece "Spill Seekers" appears in the 2011 Best American Science and Nature Writing collection. He lives in Vermont.  He is currently a fellow with the Alicia Patterson Foundation  studying in Northeast India and Northern Myanmar during 2012. His commentary originally appeared HERE.


Too soon to lift sanctions on Burma? (PERSPECTIVE)

By Tom Andrews

(Video BBC)

Just over a week ago, international election monitors and media outlets reported a remarkable event in Burma. Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi who spent years under house arrest, and sometimes in prison, fighting for democracy and justice - was elected to parliament, and calls have grown for all economic sanctions and international pressure on the regime to be lifted.

Heeding these calls would be a serious mistake.

I and a colleague spent election day in Kachin state, in the northernmost part of Burma. Bullets, not ballots, are the currency there. International observers and reporters are not welcome. After crossing the border from China under cloak of darkness, and making our way over bone-crushing roads, we saw why.

Tens of thousands of Kachins, a long-repressed ethnic minority in Burma, have been forced from their homes into crowded makeshift camps as more and more troops march into an area rich in natural resources. Despite President Thein Sein's promise in December to pull back the military, the opposite is happening in Kachin, where the escalation of troops, weapons and brutality continues unabated.

I met several dozen Kachin who had just escaped from their village, leaving behind their homes, crops and livestock. Some had walked for four days with only enough food for their children, carrying all that remained of their belongings on their backs.

They fled to makeshift camps that lack adequate food, sanitation and healthcare. We saw children with obvious respiratory illness and skin disease. The government's unwillingness to allow food or humanitarian aid into these areas recently gave way to international pressure. We saw five United Nations trucks delivering food. Still, relief workers told us it was only a small fraction of what was needed. A child coming down with what would otherwise be a highly treatable illness can die under these conditions. We attended the funeral of one such child, an 11-month-old who died after contracting diarrhea. The family asked that we stay as honored guests so that we, and the outside world, would know.

A farmer described being apprehended when he, his wife and father-in-law were harvesting corn. They were forced to carry the corn to a military encampment but attempted to escape. His wife was caught and he has not seen her since. A Baptist minister, father of seven, was apprehended after he tried to sneak back to his village. His wife, speaking with a toddler afoot and an infant on her back, sobbed as she said she had no idea what had become of him.

We made our way to an outpost of Kachin Independence Army soldiers, just beyond the range of the Burmese military's mortars. If we went further, we were told, our car would almost certainly become a target. As we spoke, a pick-up truck appeared carrying two elderly women.

They had abandoned their homes and village that morning. Their crops had been destroyed, they told us, and their cattle killed. They escaped carrying what they could on their backs.

(PHOTO: Aung San Suu Kyi/Telegraph) Without question, Suu Kyi's election to Burma's parliament is a remarkable achievement. But what I have seen reminds me that it is only part of the story. The other part, hidden in the mountains and valleys of Kachin state and in villages of other ethnic minorities, is vastly different. It is one that Burma's military-dominated government does not want you to see.

It is reasonable for the United States and the international community to recognize what progress has been made in Burma with measured, prudent (and reversible) rewards. But relaxing all sanctions and international pressure on this regime would be a serious mistake.

Progress did not occur in Burma because military leaders suddenly realized that they had erred. It came about precisely because of international pressure. To remove this pressure at a time when the government escalates its brutality against a long-suffering people would be unconscionable and should be unacceptable to the United States.

The Obama administration and US Congress should recognize the progress in Burma. But they should not do so by condemning tens of thousands of innocent people to the mercy of a military government entirely freed from the pressure of sanctions.

--- Tom Andrews is a former US congressman from Maine and president of United to End Genocide. This editorial originally appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald.


Asia pollution problem, drugs, economy on ASEAN Summit agenda (REPORT) 

(PHOTO: Haze over Bangkok at sunset/Flixya, Yumandible) (HN, March 31, 2012) - Thailand will raise haze that blanketed its northern region and its neighboring countries as an agenda concern for leaders to deal with at the 20th Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to be held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia next week, April 3-4, according to Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) group includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Cambodia, whose chairmanship was handed over from Indonesia last year, is for the first time hosting the ASEAN summit and related meetings from today through Wednesday (March 30-April 4). The summit marks the 45th anniversary of the establishment of the regional bloc.

Some countries, including the Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Indonesia, support Thailand's initiative and the ASEAN leaders may issue a joint statement for cooperation to solve the haze problem, an annual occurrence.


In preparation for the high level leaders meeting, finance ministers from ASEAN nations wrapped up their 16th gathering with an agreement to intensify economic and financial cooperation for realizing the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015, said a joint statement released after the gathering.  

"The ASEAN finance ministers together with the troika of ASEAN central bank governors of Indonesia, Cambodia, and Brunei reaffirmed our commitment to maintain growth and development momentum and financial stability of the region in the face of difficult global challenges," said the statement.

It added the ministers exchanged views with the Asian Development Bank, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund on policies to maintain stability in the current environment and called on them to continue to pursue innovative projects and assistance to better serve the needs of the ASEAN economies.

"We agreed to take all necessary actions to sustain growth and preserve the stability of financial markets," Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Keat Chhon said in a press briefing after the meeting.

(Video: Cambodia getting ready for ASEAN 2012/TeukTnotChou)

He said the ministers were also pleased that the ASEAN economies grew by 4.5 percent last year despite the heightened uncertainties in the global economy.   The ministers also agreed to continue intensifying efforts to build stronger integrated financial markets to achieve the ASEAN Economic Community.

Addressing the ASEAN economic situation at a meeting on Friday, Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Haruhiko Kuroda said within ASEAN, Indonesia should continue robust growth on strong domestic demand, while Brunei will return to its trend growth thanks to high petroleum prices.   Thailand and the Philippines, both of which suffered a severe drop in exports toward the end of last year due to supply chain disruptions, are expected to show vibrant growth.

Vietnam continues to battle inflation, whilst Myanmar is expected to accelerate reforms, and Singapore, and to some extent Malaysia, will experience some slowdown, as they will be affected more by external conditions.

"But, importantly, we expect growth in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam--the so-called CLMV countries--to continue to outpace growth in middle-income ASEAN," he said. "All in all, despite a difficult external environment, we still expect ASEAN growth this year to remain robust at 5.2 percent."


Also on the Asian leaders agenda will be a declaration creating a drug-free zone among members in the next three years.  The 10 ASEAN leaders expect to endorse the declaration at their summit meeting next week. 

Arthayudh Srisamoot, director-general of Thailand's Foreign Ministry's ASEAN Affairs Department, said the government has pushed for the drug-free zone with member nations for some time, and was pleased to see the declaration finally come into being. The government regarded the zone as an important part of its campaign against drugs.

"ASEAN will try to give more cooperation and more coordination on drug policy as well as exchanging experiences among members," he said.

Cambodia will host the ASEAN Senior Officials meeting tomorrow and Saturday, a Foreign Ministerial Meeting on Sunday and Monday; the leaders' group meets Tuesday and Wednesday.  In June, Thailand will host a seminar on cross border management between ASEAN and Japan, South Korea and China (non ASEAN nations) to discuss rules and regulations for free flows of trade in the region.

The leaders are to praise Myanmar for making progress with political development after it invited ASEAN members and the media to observe its by-elections this weekend; hoping that open elections are the first step to more regional cooperation with this just emerging nation - including becoming a visa-free country for ASEAN citizens by 2015.


Although not an ASEAN nation, China's presence is being heavily felt in Cambodia as President Hu Jintao arrived in the Phnom Penh capital Friday on a state visit to bolster ties between the already close nations, just days before the ASEAN meeting begins; and, having just left the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit in New Delhi where leaders there called for the creation of a new global development bank  and where the attitude was described as `non-West, not anti-West'.

(MAP: The Philippine Sea is a marginal sea east & north of the Philippines/Wikipedia) Hu’s four-day trip is the first visit by a Chinese head of state to Cambodia in 12 years and is timed to showcase Beijing’s close relationship with the current ASEAN chair, observers say. It is likely that the thorny issue of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) is likely to resurface among South East Asia leaders as well, without China being represented at the summit.

-- HUMNEWS (c)


Related:          Thailand: pollution puts Chiang Mai off the tourist trail

Related:          Will ASEAN Tackle South China Sea?

Related:          ASEAN security experts meet in Cambodia to strengthen small weapon control


In Myanmar, Sanctions Have Had Their Day (COMMENTARY) 

By Louise Arbour

Ancient city of Bagan, Myanamar (photo: Javier Martin Espartosa) 

As Myanmar moves ahead with its ambitious reforms and abandons old ways of thinking, Western countries need to change their own mind-set and adopt a more subtle approach.

After decades of sanctions and self-imposed isolation, Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is undergoing a remarkable and, so far, peaceful transition away from authoritarian rule. It is heading in the direction that its people and the international community both want.

The dramatic changes led by President Thein Sein have been endorsed by the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has said that the president is sincerely motivated.

Key political freedoms such as the right to organize, assemble, speak out and run for political office are being exercised in a way that was unthinkable even a year ago.

The government has abandoned policies of confrontation with the country’s ethnic minorities for a new peace initiative that has seen 11 cease-fire agreements signed with armed groups, leaving out only the resistant Kachin. These deals are an encouraging first step in what needs to be a larger effort to rethink the way the country sees itself after 60 years of civil war.

(Video: Philippines TV, Interview with Aung San Suu Kyi)

Aung San Suu Kyi is campaigning for a seat in Parliament in by-elections on April 1. The National League for Democracy is registered, not banned; her once forbidden image is ubiquitous on the streets of the capital.

Thousands turn out to see her campaigning and the media are free to report on her activities.

The elections for 48 of the 656 seats in the legislature will not be perfect, but they are expected to be much more free and fair than the controversial November 2010 poll.

(PHOTO: Downtown Yangon in the evening/Wikipedia) There is still much to be changed. Decades without a legislature have left Myanmar over-reliant on British colonial laws. “You name it, we need to reform it,” a government adviser told me in Yangon last week. Backward agriculture, antiquated infrastructure, an ossified civil service, and mind-sets cultivated by decades of isolation will not be changed easily or overnight.

The good news is that most senior officials understand this and are open to outside help. From the president down, they realize isolation has left the country weakened.

Capital, know-how and new ideas at all levels may be rushed in, not all well designed or well intentioned. The challenge for the West, which has contributed to the country’s seclusion, is to recalibrate its response to the reform initiatives.

Whether or not the existing sanctions contributed to change, they will not support the momentum for reform; removing them will. Major changes have been set in motion in response to increasing demands from the people of Myanmar, as well as in preparation for the country to act as host to the Southeast Asian Games in 2013 and to assume the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2014. In a new democratic mind-set, the government also has its eye on its own re-election in 2015.

Neither threats nor promises are necessary to set the agenda.

Skepticism and undue prudence will only slow down the reform process and risk becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. Rather, it is time for encouragement and support to achieve the mutual goal of opening up Myanmar and improving the plight of its mostly impoverished people. This will require subtlety in policy making by Western governments, and a political effort commensurate to the one being made by the Burmese authorities themselves.

First, finding new reasons to keep restrictions in place is the wrong approach. Using sanctions to force a solution to the outstanding ethnic conflict involving the Kachin armed group is a clumsy tactic that puts pressure only on the government and encourages the other side to fight on for a better deal.

Secondly, blanket prohibitions on trade, financial transactions, or development aid should no longer be used to address single-issue bilateral agendas such as people smuggling.

Finally, exclusively taking the lead from the National League for Democracy’s Aung San Suu Kyi on when to end sanctions and restrictions will no longer be appropriate once she takes up a new role as the leader of a minority party in Parliament.

The international community is now pushing on an open door in Myanmar; the real difficulty is in crossing the threshold effectively to achieve an agreed-upon objective. Neither sanctions nor a stampede of offers of assistance will help.

It is time for a more nuanced approach of engagement that understands and respects the domestic agenda and sets aside years of built-in suspicions and stereotypes. Support is needed to accelerate political and economic reforms and, most importantly for the sake of all the country’s long-suffering citizens, to meet understandable but not always realistic expectations.

--- Louise Arbour is President of the International Crisis Group. This article originally appeared in the International Herald Tribune




Armenia faces Vietnam at Women's Chess Championship round 8

(PHOTO: Azerbaijan protesters outside the French embassy in Baku; upset with France's policy towards Turkey regarding Armenia, AZERBAIJAN NEWS)Azerbaijan 

Protest action outside French embassy in Baku


Brazil pips UK as sixth-largest economy: CEBR


Burundi government taken before an East African court over graft


Canada the global housing leader

In Redford’s Alberta, tailpipe emissions a bigger concern than oil sands pollution

Falkland Islands 

Uruguay says there's no 'diplomatic cataclysm’ with UK over Malvinas (Falkland Islands) developments


The rift between Turkey and France: Is it Armenians or Syrians? (Perspective)


(PHOTO: The new Georgia-Turkey border crossing. Jessica Marati)New Georgia border crossing provides a whimsical welcome


Guinea-Bissau soldiers in pay protest


First India-UAE legal lecture series held

UK funds aid rural jobs creation in India

Urdu newspaper editors to attend two-day meet


Electricity sparks new life into Indonesia's corals

‘Perang topat’ reflects Islam-Hindu tolerance in West Lombok

(PHOTO: Jobs in India, INDIA TODAY)Iran 

Iranian naval maneuvers to start (Photo)

Ukraine firm to invest $1 bn in Iranian oil fields

Iran says electricity exports up by 24%

Persian epic poet "Ferdowsi" int'l confab in Iran


Bombings in Syria and Iraq raise spectre of Sunni-Shia war (Perspective)

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast rocked by ethnic violence


Security and Humanitarian Situations in East Africa Remain Tense 

Strangers united by the fears they share

‘Your event is a real gem in a sea of mediocrity’: Safari Rally, 2011

Famine early warning system gives Africa a chance to prepare (Perspective) 


Japanese FM Assures Aung San Suu Kyi Burmese Icon of Full Support

North Korea 

Eldest son of North Korea's late leader in Beijing under Chinese protection: source 


(PHOTO: Pakistan's Imran Khan, WIKICOMMONS) The Growing Clout Pakistani Sports-Star Turned Politician Imran Khan

Pakistan coal reserves to provide electricity more than 30 years (Perspective)  


Asia Pacific passenger traffic sustains growth

How big is Manny Pacquiao’s charitable heart? (Perspective)


Diplomatic Spat with Qatar fraught with serious fall-out

Russia, Iran Discuss Regional Conflicts, Bilateral Ties 

Russia has 25,000 undersea radioactive waste sites

Launch of Russian Proton-M carrier rocket postponed

Why Russia No Longer Emulates the U.S. (Perspective)


Kagame honoured for empowering the youth 

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Prince Pledges Help for Death Row Migrant Worker 

Saudi to allow foreign airlines to fly domestic routes

United States and Saudi Arabia: Working together to keep our countries healthy (Perspective)  

(PHOTO: Indonesia, the ‘bullet’ women carry the topat before cakes are distributed to residents. The Jakarta Post)Singapore

More Singaporeans using smartphones to shop online 


Somalia: Hero dies while removing mines

Taking Schools Back From Militants 

South Africa

Biogas technology benefits S Africa's poor (Video)

South Korea

Seoul School Fuels Coffee Industry

South Korea badly needs Vietnamese workers


Spain opens pavilion in Dubai's Global Village 

(PHOTO: Taiwan Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network of East Asia planning director & Penghu Symbiotic Algae Association chairperson Allen Chen yesterday calls on 3 presidential candidates to protect ocean resources. Taipei Times) Sri Lanka

Pakistan-Sri Lanka expand bilateral ties


Processing Plant Threatens Water in Capital


Switzerland to Invest in Tajikistan’s Water Supply System


‘Syria trying to reveal secrets behind abduction of Iranian engineers’ 


Oceans around Taiwan threatened by overfishing

EPA asks Kuokuang to protect dolphins

India’s $35 tablet computer, Aakash to be displayed in Taipei

Taiwan to work to establish mobile commerce foundation next year

Targeting emerging markets is right strategy: official

Underprivileged students to get sponsorship for exchange program


(PHOTO: A Tajikistan wedding. IWPR.ORG)Multiple Marriages in Tajikistan


Public must fight human trafficking (Perspective)

Why Voice Against Abuse of Women and Children in Zanzibar Remains High (Perspective)


Met warns of more violent seas in South

Thailand coastal residents evacuated due to high waves on 7th anniversary of tsunami

Long-term flood plan chief concern for investors

Energy imports hit record

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Strong earthquake strikes off Tonga, no damage reported

New Christian video library in the Tongan language (Press release)

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Curing our sick Trinidad and Tobago (Perspective)


Tunisia: New Cabinet Members Take Office

Tunisian Bloggers Meet at Douz International Sahara Festival

Tunisia: "Revolution" over, economy battered, tourism down 40 percent

Welcome 2012: Ringing in the New Year in Tunisia

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Turkey’s infamous Article 301 could change

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Turkey's draft law allowing foreign nationals to own property will be put to vote in the first days of 2012

Turkey becoming major hub for contemporary art


CIS to Send Observers to Turkmenistan Presidential Elections


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Ukraine's foreign policy to rest on national pragmatism principle, says president

Ukraine: Taking to the Web to Raise Funds and Awareness

It is important for Ukraine to get next tranche of IMF loan (Perspective)

Ukraine introduces new classification of passenger trains

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UAE launches online registration for Emirates ID cards

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'Social networking sites equally popular in Emirates'

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Print media will flourish for at least another decade (Perspective)

Sharjah musical festival attracts huge crowds

Lindsay Lohan in Dubai for New Year's Eve Party on board the QE2

Christmas cheer for retailers across UAE

United Kingdom 

Church of England and National Trust concerned about plans to cut solar panel subsidies

Foster families are needed warns charity

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International karate champion faces jail after sending 5,000 texts to schoolgirl, 13 

United States

Swine flu recently confirmed in five states, CDC reports

US households struggle for a warm winter (Video)


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Vanuatu offers more for travellers


Great potential for tropical fruit, vegetable export in Vietnam

Vietnam to allow free market pricing of power, fuel:  finance ministry 

Wuhan Kaidi Electric Power Got USD300mn Contract in Vietnam 

Jubilant Christmas celebrated in Vietnam


IOM urges donors to assist Ethiopian migrants in Yemen


Former Minister of Energy Kenneth Konga summoned by the Zambia police

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31 accidents recorded on Xmas eve countrywide

David Livingstone memorial set for March 2013

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Anhui Farm Project of China Helps Zimbabwe's Agriculture

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Is Burma Really Changing? (PERSPECTIVE) 

By Iqbal Ahmed

The notoriously powerful military junta of Burma is loosening its grip. In an uncharacteristic move, former army general Thein Sein, who came to power in March, thwarted the Chinese-funded $3.6-billion Myitsone dam project in the state of Kachin, relenting to continuous pressure from the Burmese citizens in that region. The Burmese government has recently released more than 6,000 political prisoners. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is currently paying a historic visit to a country that has been closed to outside world for more than 50 years.

These events indicate that Burma may be inching toward democratic reform.

But much more needs to be accomplished, tested, and proved. Burma’s political structure is still ruled unilaterally by the military, which also controls its economy. Its opposition parties are weak. Although the opposition parties are strengthening their voices with chief opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi out of house arrest, it is still too early to predict the impact of the opposition on Burma’s current political structure.

The Junta

For the last 50 years, the military junta has ruled Burma with an iron fist. Despite economic sanctions, the outside world has had little impact on the sovereignty of the regime. Burma is rich in natural resources like hydropower, natural gas, petroleum, and precious stones.

The United States renewed its financial and travel sanctions against Burma in 2007. Earlier this year, the European Union (EU) also extended its own economic sanctions. But the military junta strategically circumvented these sanctions by exploiting the country’s natural resources. According to a report, in 2010 the Burmese junta netted an estimated 1 billion euro from the sale of precious stones. Showcasing its resources at trade fairs, the junta generated as much as 400-500 million euro the same year.

The human rights violations of the military junta are beyond question. To cite but one example, instead of helping the victims of cyclone Nargis, the military government continued to spend money generated from the proceeds of the sale of natural resources to build up its military power.

Regional Alliances

India’s relationship with Burma is complicated by geographical proximity, Chinese influence, and a tension between mistrust and collaboration. Despite political and philosophical differences, India has shown its support for democratic changes in Burma. According to one report, India openly criticized Burma’s autocratic suppression when a massive anti-government rally broke out in 2007 to protest an increase in fuel prices.

But India has also attempted to engage with Burma politically and has pressured the United States and other Western nations to ease the economic sanctions against Burma. The economic ties between India and Burma, after all, are very close. According to the South Asia Analysis Group, in 2007 and 2008 bilateral trade between the two countries reached nearly $1 billion, while exports from Burma to India reached $810 million. This economic relationship has extended to building infrastructure projects, establishing border trade, and brokering energy deals.  

The prospects of Burma assuming the chairmanship of ASEAN in 2014 look promising. Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa recently commentedthat this opportunity would be a testament to the country’s path to democratic reform. The ASEAN chairmanship is important to Burma for securing international recognition and validating the country's new democratic credentials. With rising human capital, savings rates, foreign investment, and GDP growth, the ASEAN nations continue to assert their economic and political strengths in global markets. For Burma, this would be a big opportunity to translate its political changes into economic investments.

Because of the economic sanctions from the West and “disassociation” with the ASEAN countries, China has remained a reliable trading ally for Burma. A sustained political and diplomatic relationship between Burma and China is essential to economic growth in Burma, but it may not be easy to achieve. Although China’s relationship with ASEAN countries has improved over the last decades, its growing military power poses a concern for its Southeast Asian neighbors, including Burma.

The Reforms

Even before her house arrest in 1989, Aung San Suu Kyi had been actively advocating for democratic reform in Burma. Today she is preparing to run for a seat in the Senate. She met Secretary of State Clinton on her trip to the country and endorsed closer ties between the United States and Burma.

Suu Kyi’s political party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has registered to run in the upcoming elections. The party has pressed for a variety of political changes, including a constitutional amendment that would allow prisoners to vote. There have been other positive signs in terms of human rights. Zargana, a famous comedian in Burma, was jailed for speaking out against the government’s inaction for the victims of Hurricane Nargis in 2008. Sentenced to 59 years in prison, Zargana is free now. His release, along with the unbanning of public protests, points to the possibility of a new climate of free speech.

The Burmese government has also reversed a labor law so that unions can now strike under certain conditions, a practice that had been banned since 1962. The new legislation will likely improve transparency in Burmese labor practices.

The cancellation of the Myitsone dam project is another indication that the reforms are serious. For one thing, it acknowledges the government response to the plight of the villagers who have been displaced to make way for the project. It reflects years of public discontent against the military regime in the Kachin region. And it also underscores Burma’s firmness against China’s manipulation of its natural resources.

These changes illustrate how far the Burmese government has come in terms of democratic reform after more than 50 years of military rule. Burma’s road to reform has many potential obstacles. The government continues to persecute opposition party members, and the junta’s treatment of insurgents in states like Kachin remains objectionable. Despite these indications of a government reluctant to give up its political control, Burma is clearly on a different path. Where that path leads, however, is still not certain.

Iqbal Ahmed is a public policy graduate student at George Mason University and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus. He has written for Foreign Policy Journal, Journal of Foreign Relations, Global Politician, and NPR’s “This I Believe.”

Originally published by the Institute for Policy Studies licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.


Reform in Myanmar (INTERVIEW / PERSPECTIVE) 

International Crisis Group

(September 22, 2011) Jim Della-Giacoma, Crisis Group's Southeast Asia Project Director, speaks about changes on the ground in Myanmar as President Thein Sein pursues a reform agenda and how Western nations can encourage further change. 

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Myanmar’s President Thein Sein has pursued a reform agenda since assuming office in March 2011, relaxing some restrictions on speech and political organizing and meeting with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Yet some critics denounce these moves as mere window dressing for a fundamentally unchanged military dictatorship. To discuss whether conditions are actually changing on the ground, I’m joined by Jim Della-Giacoma, Crisis Group’s Southeast Asia Project Director. Jim joined me on the line from Jakarta.

Jim, give us a sense of some of the concrete reforms underway since President Thein Sein assumed office in March.

The most significant political reforms or signs of political reconciliation have really taken place since the middle of July. Since that time, we’ve seen President Thein Sein reach out to Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy, and try and win her over, along with others, to his reform agenda. He invited her and her followers--3,000 of them--to Martyr’s Day in the middle of July. The pace of meetings between Aung Kyi, the Labor Minister, and Aung San Suu Kyi has increased. We have most significantly seen a meeting with the president and Aung San Suu Kyi herself, and that is a very dramatic development because they were photographed under the portrait of her late father, and this was something that the previous government had very deliberately expunged from the public view.
Do you have a sense that the impetus for reform is flowing directly from the president and, if so, what opposition does he face within the military or the economic elite?

Reforms are definitely coming from the president himself. He is very personally involved and invested in convincing people from outside--Burmese who have lived overseas for many years--to come back and to help him with his reforms. His meeting Aung San Suu Kyi is one example of where he made a personal approach to bring her in and onto his side. And she has described that the changes as being very positive.
What are some of the obstacles Myanmar faces at this point to further reform?

It’s clear that the president has the military on his side. Recently, the parliament passed a motion on the release of prisoners, and the military faction voted in favor of that motion. And we, analyze that this may be because the head of the military may himself be considering running for office in five years time. There are people who have vested interests in the status-quo and who will try to stop these reforms or could stop these reforms. There is a lot fear about change, and the bureaucracy is very under-equipped to deal with this rapid change and reforms.  So, there’s a lot of things that could go wrong and the agenda of the president is very ambitious. But we feel it’s not the time to wait for it to fail. Particularly for western countries that have been disengaged from Myanmar in recent years, now is the time to try and support these reforms, which will have positive effects for the people of Myanmar.
So can you give me some specifics then about how Western nations can best engage and respond?

One example has been that people are very concerned overseas about the ongoing human rights abuses, which continue to this day as the military in Myanmar fights against ethic insurgents. It’s undeniable that human rights abuses are continuing, but the government has recently set up a human rights commission. This commission is a very new body. It’s lacking experience and skills and resources. There have been a number of nations in the past that have engaged with Myanmar on human rights, and here’s an opportunity for international assistance to help promote greater domestic accountability for human rights abuses in the country.
Many international observers have argued that the government’s reforms have been really paper thin and that the best way to achieve change is with new sanctions. What would you say in response to that line of thinking?

There’s a lot of differences everyday that we’re seeing in the way the country is governed. These are more than just words, but there’s still many concrete actions to be taken. To stay at the sidelines at this point is to deny the significance of the changes that are happening. Those people who’ve met Aung San Suu Kyi in recent weeks have found her very cogent, engaged, aware that she’s balancing complex and difficult issues, but also very optimistic. One visitor who we spoke to recently quoted her as saying, “those people who say there’s no change are not here.”
Would sanctions then be counterproductive at this point?

Crisis Group has long held the view that sanctions on Myanmar, targeted or non-targeted, are counterproductive. They encourage a siege mentality among its leadership, and they are harmful for the poor population of this country. The greater the pace of change, the weaker the rational becomes for continuing or adding more.
And what about some kind of international investigation?

There remains ample evidence that the army continues to employ brutal counterinsurgency strategies, and in the absence of domestic accountability, calls for an international commission will remain. But it is far from clear that an international commission, even if one could be established, is the most effective way to address the abuses at this time or whether its impact would be to cause backsliding or retrenchment in Myanmar.   There are already indications that the key benchmarks that many in the West have been insisting on for so long may soon be reached, such as the release of political prisoners. If there’s internal progress in human rights and significant economic reforms that benefit the country’s citizens, these should be acknowledged and the international community should be supporting these changes and encouraging more.
- Edited for print

Also from ICG, Myanmar: Major Reform Underway - The International Crisis Group is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict. 

Aung San Suu Kyi: "The World Needs to Know What is Going on in Burma" (NEWS BRIEF)

By Themrise Khan in New York

CGI 2011 Plenary Session Conversations on Courage(

Aung San Suu Kyi, General Secretary of the National League for Democracy, Addresses the Clinton Global Initiative in New York today, live via satellite from Yangon. CREDIT: CGI

(HN, September 21, 2011) - Two of the world's famous freedom fighters sat face-to-face this morning in New York City - or as was as close as possible under the circumstances.

Live on stage in New York,  in front of a packed plenary on the second day of the Clinton Global Summit, was Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.

A world away, via satellite and sitting comfortably in her home on the banks of Inya Lake in Yangon (formerly Rangoon) was the renowned opposition leader in Myanmar (formerly Burma), Aung San Suu Kyi.

The fact that technology could link these two Nobel Peace Prize winners is, in these times, unremarkable. What was astonishing was that the Burmese military regime allowed Suu Kyi's conversation to take place, uncensored.

It's not clear what type of diplomatic handywork or meaneuvering went on behind closed doors by former US President Clinton, the host of the meeting, to get the Burmese generals to agree to the broadcast. But for a man who has rescued stranded celebrity journalists from North Korea, and has accomplished other seemingly impossible feats, this may have been received as just another challenge.

The broadcast was billed as Suu Kyi's first live conversation since her release in 2009.

Little wonder the atmosphere in the hall was nothing less than euphoric. Tutu, who made no secret of his admiration for his colleague a world away, appeared smitten and almost child-like at her elegant and articulate responses.

It was a rare site.

As moderator Charlie Rose pointed out more than once, audience members were witness to “something going on here, mutual admiration society and more”.

But the humorous banter did not hide the seriousness of the issue at hand. At issues was the struggle for freedom of a nation, a topic which very few around the world seem to know very little about.

Despite her long and painful incarceration, Suu Kyi sounded very optimistic about Myanmar’s future, especially that of its youth. She was confident of the possibility of change, citing that when she was freed in 2009, there were many, many more youth out to greet her than at any of the previous times, she had seen. “That showed me that some change was going on within the people”, she said.

To Suu Kyi, awareness of the situation for the Myanmar people, and for the whole world, was one of the most important elements of bringing change. “If the world wants to help Burma, the world needs to know what is going on in Burma”, she said. “ We would like the world to keep an eye on what is happening here”.

Responding to a question on whether neighbours, India and China. can do more to help the political situation in Myanmar, Suu Kyi was adamant that people must first listen to the voices of ordinary Burmese, to what the people want. Then they can help Burma.

“We have always been good neighbors, but times have changed and to continue to be good neighbors certain policies will have to change”, she said.

Unfortunately, Myanmar is still far away from uprisings like the Arab Spring. In answering Rose’s question about the use of social media, Suu Kyi pointed out that Myanmar has no where near the media access that participants in the Arab Spring had. Young people in Myanmar need to be better prepared to face the modern world starting with education.

“I could never have been speaking to you like this seven years ago”, she said. Not letting fear sap her energy all these years, Suu Kyi has remained a controlled and passionate fighter for the cause. A fighter, that fellow fighter Tutu, looks forward to seeing inaugurated as head of the government, when he visits Myanmar in the future.

When you stand out in a crowd it is only because you are standing on the shoulders of others," said Tutu.

CGI 2011 Plenary Session Conversations on Courage

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Chairman of The Elders, could hardly hide his excitement sharing the stage today with Aung San Suu Kyi. CREDIT: CGI


Death Toll Rising in Myanmar (aka Burma) After 6.8 Magnitude Earthquake (News Brief) 

(HN, March 25, 2011) --- Burmese officials say the death toll from Thursday's 6.8 magnitude earthquake is now up to at least 74, with at least 111 injured.

The U.N. reports six aftershocks have been felt since the earthquake first struck and the risk of landslides remains high.

The quake struck in northeastern Myanmar (aka Burma) near the border with Thailand.  The epicenter was about 90 kilometers north of the Thai city of Chaing Rai, which sustained minor damage.  U.S. experts say the quake was just 10 kilometers deep.

State-run radio broadcasts quote Burmese officials as saying at least 390 homes, 14 monasteries and nine government buildings were destroyed in the areas near the epicenter of the quake.

One woman in Thailand was killed when a wall of her house collapsed on her.

Aid agency World Vision says it is working closely with Myanmar's government to provide emergency assistance to those affected by the 6.8 magnitude earthquake near the Golden Triangle. 

Chris Herink, World Vision country director for Myanmar, told Radio Australia's Asia Pacific it had received immediate cooperation from authorities within the military-led regime when it offered assistance.


Weakness in Developed Economies Poses Risks for Emerging Asian Tigers - ADB (News Brief)

(HN, December 7, 2010) The emerging "tiger economies" of Asia will see moderate growth at best in the coming year due to continuing slow demand in the USA and Europe.Many Asian economies, such as Laos, are benefitting from increased tourism receipts. CREDIT: Michael Bociurkiw/HUMNEWS

According to the Asian Development Bank's just-released Asian Economic Monitor, the Asian economies saw a robust recovery in the past year due to higher domestic demand, stimulus interventions and low financial vulnerability.

While many of the economies received high marks for good economic house-keeping - many are export-dependent and cannot escape the economic contagion from the USA and Europe.

"The external economic environment for emerging East Asia has weakened as the US economy continues to struggle and doubts remain over the sustainability of the eurozone recovery," said the ADB. "Many emerging East Asian economies now face the challenge of managing strong growth and capital flows amid a weaker external environment."

Small economies, which just a few months ago appeared on the brink of collapse, are clawing their way back. Laos, for instance, benefitted from construction related to the Southeast Asian games and higher mineral production.

Myanmar (also known as Burma), which has been battered by severe weather events and political unrest, saw economic growth improve to 4.4% in 2009 from 3.6% the previous year boosted by large inflows of foreign direct investment, the ADB said.

However, GDP in both Brunei Darussalam and Cambodia contracted.

One of the extraordinary developments has been the surge in stock market growth in the emerging economies of East Asia.

The ADB reports increases in bourses such as: Indonesia (44.3%), Thailand (38.3%), Philippines (35.7%) and Malaysia (17.5%) posting record highs.

- HUMNEWS staff, ADB


World leaders seek to save the tiger from extinction (Report) 

Tiger - photo courtesy of WorldWildlifeFund (WWF) (HN, November 21, 2010) An unprecedented 13- state summit that  aims to double the tigers population by the next Year of the Tiger in 2022 begins in Russia today.

Russian prime minister and self-proclaimed animal lover Vladimir Putin opened his native city to the world's first gathering of leaders from nations where the tiger's free rein has been squeezed ever-tighter by poachers.

"This is an unprecedented gathering of world leaders (that aims) to double the number of tigers," Jim Adams, Vice President for the East Asia and Pacific Region at the World Bank, said at the opening ceremony of the four-day event.  

The number of tigers in the wild has dwindled from 100,000 to 3,200 in the past century, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)  The main threats to tigers are the destruction of their habitats in Asia - due to economic and industrial expansion - and poachers.

The wildlife charity warns that the tiger could become extinct within the next 12 years unless urgent action is taken.

Poachers represent a huge threat to the tiger's survival. The use of tiger bones in traditional Chinese medicines is widely known, although the ingredient hasn't been listed in official Chinese manuals for pharmaceuticals since 1993. Tiger is also served in high priced restaurants so that millionaires can eat endangered species to demonstrate their wealth. 

"It's essential to eliminate poaching," said Adams. "Solutions must begin at the local level. Trans-boundary cooperation must be reinforced."

The summit's Russian hosts said that a global initiative on tigers could provide lessons for other joint environmental pursuits.

The tiger summit will provide an example "for other challenges such as global warming," Russian Natural Resources Minister Yury Trutnev told the gathering.

The high-profile summit is due to be attended by Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and delegations from India and Bangladesh -- the three nations with the largest volume of tiger skin and other organ trafficking.

Russia is the only country to have seen its tiger population rise in recent years. It had just 80 to 100 in the 1960s but now has around 500, with experts praising Putin for taking an active role in the cause.

Putin has personally championed the protection of the Amur Tiger in the country's Far East and was hailed by the Russian media for firing a tranquillizer dart at one of the fabled beasts in 2008.

The conference is expected to tackle the burden of funding a 12-year plan that reaches across the 13 nations. It is also believed to be the world's first gathering of leaders to address the fate of a single species.

But consensus on the need to save the tiger has been hampered by a lack of coordination on the ground to stop the trafficking of tiger parts such as paws and bones -- all prized in traditional Asian medicine.

Apart from Russia, 12 other countries host fragile tiger populations -- Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam.

Experts stress that India and China are by far the biggest players in saving the beast.

India is home to half of the world population while the Chinese remain the world's biggest consumers of tiger products despite global bans.



(REPORT) Myanmar (aka Burma) opposition leader freed 

Aung San Suu Kyi outside her home moments after release (PHOTO: Mizzima)(HN, November 13, 2010) -- This morning the ruling military junta in Myanmar (aka, Burma) released opposition leader, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Elder member, Aung San Suu Kyi fifteen years after she was placed under house arrest when her party the National League for Democracy won 58 percent of the voting in parliamentary elections in 1990. The results were annulled by the government in power and Suu Kyi has been imprisoned where she’s been since.

Her house arrest was due to end in May 2009, but was extended for eighteen months after she was convicted for violating the terms of her house arrest and until the NLD showed to be strong in last Sunday's elections in Myanmar. Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for more than 15 of the last 21 years.

The release comes less than a week after the ruling military government held parliamentary elections for the first time in two decades. The poll was seen as not free and fair by independent observers and harshly criticized by countries like the United States.

It is not clear what forced the government's hand to free Suu Kyi. It may be trying to project a more positive image to the outside world, or it may have been pressured into doing so by neighbouring China, Thailand or fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

ASEAN chief Surin Pitsuwan said on Saturday he was "very, very relieved" and that he hoped she will not be detained again.

"I'm very, very relieved and hope that this will contribute to true national reconciliation in Myanmar and that Aung San Suu Kyi will be able to play a role in bringing national reconciliation," Surin told news agencies. "Let's hope that there will not be any relapse and that other political prisoners will also benefit from this gesture of national reconciliation."

A UN spokesman said Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called Suu Kyi "an inspiration" to the world. 

"The secretary general expects that no further restrictions will be placed on her, and he urges the Myanmar authorities to build on today's action by releasing all remaining political prisoners," said the spokesman.

The Philippines, the most outspoken ASEAN member in calling for Suu Kyi's release, also welcomed her freedom but said more needed to be done.

"This is a positive step toward the right path for Myanmar. But the question remains -- will all of her political rights be restored, will they take more substantive steps toward democratisation?" said Ricky Carandang, spokesman for President Benigno Aquino.

"We hope that this meaningful action will be followed by more substantive action. We welcome it, but more needs to be done," Carandang was quoted as saying.

Desmond Tutu, chair of the group of retired senior statesmen known as The Elders, called Suu Kyi "a global symbol of moral courage" and her release "offers hope to the people of Burma." 

The Elders said the government must respect her political rights and not place any conditions on her release. They also called for the freeing of all Myanmar's political prisoners. 

---HUMNEWS staff.


(REPORT) Myanmar (aka Burma): Election look ahead to Sunday 

(HN, November 4, 2010 ) -- After months of preparation and the promise of “free and fair” elections, the polls in Myanmar (also known as Burma) will be open for the first time in 20 years on November 7th.   The general election forms the fifth step of the seven-step "road map to democracy" proposed by the ruling junta in Myanmar, the `State Peace and Development Council’ (SPDC) in 2003. The sixth and seventh steps being the gathering of elected representatives and the building of a modern, democratic nation, consecutively.

Although the  international consensus is that there will be no such thing as a “free and fair” election this Sunday there is support of the generals from India, China, Thailand and others; and the world’s top diplomat, Ban Ki-moon is keeping optimistic.

The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is expected to emerge as the new “civilian leaders” backed by millions of Burmese who have been enticed or coerced into joining the proxy party.

The USDP, led by current Prime Minister Thein Sein, began on a populist platform, offering low-interest loans to Burma’s poorest. The cash-for-vote ploy may prove to be too hard to refuse for the average Burmese citizen to refuse as approximately 33 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.  After decades of military rule, Burma has the lowest per capita GDP in South East Asia.

The wealth of the USDP has meant that it can promote a candidate in 1,112 of the 1,158 districts around the country, while most other parties struggle with high registration fees. In 52 of those districts, USDP faces no competition at all and in fact has actually been canceling balloting in at least 12 villages in six districts in Kayah state "as conditions are not conducive to holding a free and fair election," according to an official notice seen on November 2nd.  The announcement in the states official newspaper gave no further explanation for the action, but in September, the election commission canceled voting in about 300 villages in 33 townships where ethnic minorities are dominant.

Funding for the USDP comes from the disbanded Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), the so-called "social welfare" wing of the junta, which also boasts the country's most powerful political and business figures. Most of the 26 million USDA members are now with the USDP.

Since 1990, world attention has focused on Aung San Suu Kyi, National League for Democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient. Her National League for Democracy (NLD) party won 58 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections in 1990, only to see the results annulled and Suu Kyi put under house arrest, imprisoned where she’s been since. Her house arrest was due to end in May 2009, but was extended for eighteen months after she was convicted for violating the terms of her house arrest.

From her house arrest she has called for an election boycott and supporters of the (NLD) are holding "lightning" protests telling the public that a vote on Sunday will legitimize military rule.

Currently the strongest opposition party, the National Democratic Force, formed by former members of the NLD, is fielding 163 candidates against the USDP’s 1,100 and faces added competition from the boycott lobby. What opposition exists faces little hope of winning any clout in the new parliament as 25% of those seats are already reserved for the military.

"You cannot hope the election to be free and fair by world standards," said Dr Than Nyein, the chairman of the NDF. "But at least we can have a civilian government in place of a military one and I think this is a great step forward.”


In addition to this on October 22nd the country’s West Coast state of Rakhine was hit by Cyclone Giri which devastated the area, leaving 71,000 people homeless and affecting over 200,000 according to government estimates who, according to the UN will require food aid over the next three months following the Cyclone's destruction of rice fields. Although petitions have been filed asking for a delay in elections to take place in the affected areas, the government has not replied and elections will take place on Sunday as scheduled. This is not the first time the government has proceeded with voting after a natural disaster. In the 2008 referendum, which set the ball rolling for these elections, the junta claimed a 98% voter turnout, with 92% approval, despite 15% of the country having been left crippled by cyclone Nargis.

Compounding matters are reports that there has been an increase in fighting in border areas where there has been a long-running war between ethnic groups and the Burmese military; and stories of villages being attacked due to assumed affiliation with border rebels are also increasing.

Added to all of this are the 2,200 political prisoners, more than half a million internally displaced persons, 400,000 monks and hundreds of thousands of refugees abroad – all of whom would likely vote opposition in a democratic election; but all of whom cannot vote in Sunday’s election.

How the election will be reported to the rest of the world is also an issue. The ban on foreign journalists and election monitors is intended to lock the country's physical and virtual borders; a campaign that has already seen aggressive aggressive cyber attacks on independent media, the slowing of the country's internet, and a ban on domestic journalists going near the polls.

The international NGO Human Rights Watch along with other world leaders have already issued their view on the upcoming election saying "The international community doesn't need to wait until November 7 to know these elections are rigged from top to bottom," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. 

The group is urging the new government for real change in Burma and calling on the global community to take various steps, including calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners, while pressing the new government to respect human rights, commit to an inclusive political process that includes increased access for humanitarian agencies and the media, and increasing the role of civil society and development groups.

The SPDC announced the elections on August 13th and results are expected to take several days to weeks to return. 

- HUMNews Staff



HUMNEWS’ Michael Bociurkiw has been working on and off as an aid worker for UNICEF since 2001. Here are excerpts from our interview with him on World Humanitarian Day.


Credit: Katie Grusovin

I have worked mostly as a Communication Officer - or spokesperson - both in emergencies and country office settings. Lately I have taken on more work in the donor relations and programmatic areas. I’ve also worked for a brief period as global spokesperson in Geneva. The 2005 Pakistan earthquake and the 2008 Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar are the two largest emergencies I’ve worked on. In both cases, the devastation was vast and millions were displaced.

UNICEF’s mission in more than 100 countries is to create a protective environment for women and children. The organization’s ability to respond quickly in major emergencies is well-known and usually focuses on health, water and sanitation, nutrition and child protection.

Previously I was a journalist, working for major media outlets in Canada and Asia. I was led to UNICEF by pure chance immediately after 9-11, when the Afghanistan emergency was taking hold. My only experience before that with UNICEF was carrying the UNICEF Trick-or-Treat box during Halloween as a kid growing up in Canada.

Most of my work has involved informing the media and donors about UNICEF’s interventions - both during emergencies and in our day-to-day work. I love working in emergencies as the needs are great and so is the adrenalin rush. It's not uncommon to work 16-18 hour days for very long periods under very trying conditions. You can feel the difference you are making. In the first few hours and days after an emergencies strikes, it's important to get the crucial details out - as well as photos and videos - to the media and donors as quickly as possible. Transparency and accuracy are paramount in our messages. We dont work alone: we work with other UN agencies, government, NGO’s, donors and others. In emergencies - such as the ongoing floods in Pakistan - we arent able to respond fully unless donations are extended and for this we normally issue an emergency appeal. UNICEF depends entirely on voluntary donations - from ordinary people, governments and corporations. (With one-fifth of Pakistan now under water, I urge donors to respond to the appeal for immediate resources).

My longest posting was in our East Jerusalem office, where I led the communication section. We worked primarily in Gaza and the West Bank and the challenges, to say the least, were daunting. I’ve also worked in Pakistan, Tajikistan, Africa, Southeast Asia - and for the Canadian and US fundraising arms of UNICEF.

It seems that, no matter where you look on the world map, the needs of women and children are great. While there are countries where some of the indices we normally track are worsening (i.e. maternal and infant mortality, HIV AIDS, nutrition, school enrollment), for the most part we are seeing quantifiable improvements. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are due in 2015 - that’s not very far away - and there are many countries that will miss certain targets. What we are also finding is that as human development statistics are improving, there are still large groups of people - the poorest families, people in rural area, girls - that have been left behind. We often find ourselves scratching our heads, trying to find answers to vexing questions: why is it, for example, that despite free primary education, many boys and girls in rural Lesotho don't go to school?

I am often asked how I cope in emergencies - where you see some pretty gruesome scenes or where your life is often at risk. It's the encouragement and support of family and friends that keeps me going. UNICEF has no shortage of competent, well-meaning professionals and being able to work with the best in the business is a privilege.

For those of us in the communications business, I think what helps keep us going is that, as a spokesperson, you get in front of millions of viewers at a time and share with them what you are seeing, what we are doing as aid workers. We explain what people are going through, how many are affected, what the needs are and what UNICEF is doing to alleviate their suffering and keep them alive. It’s an important role to play and, in this 24-hour news cycle, you are often called upon anytime of day and night. Honesty and accuracy are crucial when you are on the air, and I think most people can tell if you are being evasive or are exaggerating. I've worked on many occasions with CNN, BCC, CBC and Al-Jazeera. CNN and CBC have been especially good to us - with air time and informed interviewers. I am glad that aid workers, journalists and technology people are now coming together to think up new, innovative ways to better cover the uncovered parts of the world - what HUM calls the "geographic gap" in news coverage.

Have I ever faced danger? Yes - I have fallen off a helicopter, been in the cross-hairs of snipers, searched at gunpoint on a Jerusalem highway, threatened by a gun-totting farmer in the Gaza Strip and sustained a bloody head injury in the desert in northern Nigeria. But my brains and limbs are still intact - and my heart is still in this!

Thankfully I havent lost any close colleagues, but we feel it deep down when anyone in the UNICEF family - or in the aid business for that matter - dies in the line of duty. I think about my compatriot and colleague,Chris Klein-Beekman died at the age of 32 in the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad. Credit: UNICEFChristopher Klein-Beekman, who at 32-years-old, died in the line of duty in the 2003 bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad. His parents live near me on Vancouver Island and I really choked up when I met them for the first time. The recent killing of aid workers in northern Afghanistan - an area I am familiar with - was horrific and shocked many of us to the core.

On World Humanitarian Day, I think of people like Chris and his parents. I think of the young Pakistani women near Mansehra, cradling her terrified child after losing everything to the South Asian earthquake. I think of the farmers in the Irrawaddy Delta in Myanmar, their land inundated by salt water brought by an unforgiving Cyclone Nargis. And I think of the teenage girl I met in Kano State in Northern Nigeria, her limbs rendered lifeless because she didn't receive a polio vaccination.

We are often prevented from reaching beneficiaries by washed out roads, bad weather, road blocks, lack of air transport or heavy lift capacity, or violence started by state or non-state actors. It's important for us to be seen as neutral actors and to convince those in positions of power that we are there for one simple reason: to save lives. All kinds of live-saving materials pass through the cargo holds of airplanes we've managed to borrow, through the trucks we've leased and - ultimately through our hands and the hands of our partners: insecticide-treated bed nets, blankets, tents, water purification tablets, water pumps, high energy biscuits, syringes and medicines - you name it.

All-in-all, this career has exceeded my expectations by far. I count myself as extremely lucky and feel I have one of the best jobs in the world. On top of that I get to help people in need, help find solutions to their pressing problems. I am learning new things all the time, see the word and get to work with an awesome and diverse group of professionals!