Spotlight on...

Spotlight on Africa


Farmer moving drought-affected cattle in southern Ethiopia, March 2006 (Photo: Simon Roughneen). Stories from recent years covering issues such as war in Darfur, drought in Kenya, drugs in Ethiopia, slums in Freetown, starting business in Nairobi, independence in South Sudan.
Spotlight on Burma


Tin Maung Win (pseudonym), a Burmese prisoner of war being held by rebels in Kachin State near the Burma-China border. (Photo: Simon Roughneen, December 2012). A military dictatorship for almost 50 years, Burma's recent reforms have legitimised western business interests as governments remove sanctions. However sectarian and ethnic fighting continues in Kachin, while Buddhist-Muslim tensions have erupted into violence in Arakan in the west and in central Burma.
Spotlight on Cambodia


Landgrabs, corruption, allegations of racism and, as it turned out, claims by the opposition that the vote was flawed, all overshadowed July 2013 elections in Cambodia. Both Hun Sen's long-ruling Cambodian People's Party and the opposition, led by Sam Rainsy, are claiming victory after a contest notable for the high percentage of young voters, and, it seems, the fading memory of the brutal Khmer Rouge era. Photo – Boeng Kak lake in central Phnom Penh. Sand now occupies the former lake, the landfill serving as the foundation for what will be a hotel/office complex, in what has been possibly Cambodia's best-known landgrab case. Photo taken by Simon Roughneen, Nov. 2012.
Spotligh on Haiti


One of tens of thousands of buildings felled in Port-au-Prince during the Jan.12 2010 earthquake (Photo: Simon Roughneen). Around 220,000 people were killed with 3 million more left homeless. Some reports here from the immediate aftermath of the disaster.
Spotlight on India


Men waiting to board train from Bangalore, India's IT hub, to Guwahati, a day's travel away in India's northeast (Photo: Simon Roughneen). India's economy has stalled in the past year or so, with the government slow to reform in key sectors. Hundreds of millions of Indians have seen improved living standards in recent years, but, underlining the challenges of governing this vast country, hundreds of millions more remain poor. Some related stories here.
Spotlight on Kosovo


Posters in Pristina thanking the UK for its role in helping Kosovo break from Serbia (Photo: Simon Roughneen). Serbia and allies such as Russia opposed Kosovo's independence, with protests in Belgrade and Mitrovica right after the Feb. 2008 independence declaration.
Spotlight on Malaysia


After several opposition-backed protests by Malaysians seeking reform of what they see as a rigged electoral system, the May 2013 election saw a narrow win for the Barisan Nasional, who lost the popular vote but retained office via what the opposition said was a gerrymander. Photo – Police fire teargas at protestors seeking changes to the electoral system. Taken by Simon Roughneen, Kuala Lumpur, July 2011.
Spotlight on The Middle East

Middle East

Impact of shelling and gunfire at a Sunni-Alawite interface in Tripoli, Lebanon. (Photo: Simon Roughneen, August 2008). This same street has seen fighting again in early 2013, partly an extension of sectarian clashes in Syria. Here are some stories from Israel, Lebanon and the West Bank from 2008 and 2010.
Spotlight on Pakistan


Stories from Kashmir after the 2005 earthquake, and from Sindh after the 2010 floods. These children were left homeless by the 2010 floods and had spent 2 weeks sleeping outdoors on the outskirts of Sukkur, Sindh Province by the time I took this photo.
Spotlight on The Philippines

The Philippines

The Manila metro (Photo: Simon Roughneen). As of mid 2012, The Philippines was growing economically, but relations with China remain thorny. While the country had peaceful and free elections in 2010, issues such as impunity for murders of journalists, corruption, and poverty in urban slum areas persist.
Spotloght on Thailand


Redshirt protestors fire home-made weapons at Thai army positions in Bangkok during 2010 anti-government protests (Photo: Simon Roughneen). Stories here from Thailand on those protests, 2011 floods, harsh conditions facing Burmese migrants in Thailand, and more.
Spotlight on Timor-Leste


Supporters of opposition party FRETILIN rally prior to East Timor's July 2012 parliamentary elections (Photo: Simon Roughneen). After the departure of International peacekeepers and the last UN mission, Timor-Leste faces the challenge of using gas and oil revenues to boost living standards and create a more diverse economy, before the resources run out.
Spotlight on Vietnam


Traffic in Hanoi (Photo: Simon Roughneen). Vietnam's economy has sputtered in recent years, after a decade of high growth and hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign investment. Recent corruption scandals and whispers of in-fighting among the ruling Communist Party has been accompanied by more jailings of government critics, highlighting the one-party state's intolerance of dissent.

Featured Articles
Letter from Kampar: winning the election, losing Malaysia – Foreign Affairs

Letter from Kampar: winning the election, losing Malaysia - Foreign Affairs

KAMPAR, MALAYSIA - He wouldn't give his full name or his age -- except to say that he had vivid childhood memories of Japan's World War II occupation of Malaysia -- but Lee, a Chinese-Malaysian shopkeeper in Kampar, a onetime tin-mining hub in the northwestern Malaysian state of Perak, didn't ...

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Syrian refugee Reina's disfigured arm (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Syria's war shadow lengthens over Lebanon - The Edge Review

DALHAMIEH, Lebanon – Rolling up a green dress sleeve, 12-year-old Syrian refugee Reina murmurs “chemical, chemical.” Her arm, what's left of it, is distorted, wrinked and swollen – looking more more like a gnarled and ancient tree root than a human limb.

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Old town of L'Aquila, four years after the earthquake (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

L'Aquila, four years on - The Edge Review

L'AQUILA, Italy – The three bottles of red wine sit corked on the table, exactly where they were that night almost four years ago, when a deadly earthquake hit this mountainside town in central Italy.

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Burmese generals ignore ceasefire order and launch air attacks on Christian rebels – The Times

Burmese generals ignore ceasefire order and launch air attacks on Christian rebels - The Times

LAIZA- He was fixing his car when the shell landed in front of the simple home where he and his family lived as fruit farmers. There was no warning, no chance to escape and nothing that could be done to save him.

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Thais cheer as King Bhumibol Adulyadej appears at Bangkok Royal Plaza on Wednesday Dec. 5 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

King's birthday marks time-out in Thailand's game of thrones - Christian Science Monitor

BANGKOK - The royalist factions who ousted Thaksin in 2006 “cannot be happy that Thaksin’s sister is prime minister,” says Paul Handley, author of “The King Never Smiles,” an unauthorized biography of King Bhumibol banned in Thailand. “I think that limits her ability to begin normalizing politics away from palace ...

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MAG scanning for mines near Seksak village (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Castles in the Cambodian sand - Asia Sentinel/RTÉ World Report

Seksak, Battambang Province, Cambodia - As Cambodia''s economy zips along at 7-10 percent growth over much of the last decade, the government insists it is trying to build what it calls a sustainable land policy, including reclaiming terrain lost to landmines and bombs. But others say a corrupt and Chinese-influenced ...

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Scottish independence: Who would get the nukes, and other questions – Christian Science Monitor

Scottish independence: Who would get the nukes, and other questions - Christian Science Monitor

EDINBURGH- As it considers a 2014 referendum on independence from the UK, Scotland still has a litany of issues that must be resolved beforehand, including its role in the EU and NATO.

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Elections mark East Timor’s second major transition since independence – Christian Science Monitor

Elections mark East Timor's second major transition since independence - Christian Science Monitor

DILI, East Timor - FRETILIN leader Mari Alkatiri on Tuesday repeated a call made before the vote for East Timor's old guard political leaders to forge a grand bargain – regardless of the result – for handing power over to younger politicians. “Sooner or later we have to hand political ...

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After Arakan violence, disquiet on the western front – The Irrawaddy

After Arakan violence, disquiet on the western front - The Irrawaddy

SITTWE, Arakan State, Burma - “Most Arakanese people are quite angry at Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” said Shwe Maung, a teacher in Sittwe and central committee member of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, which has 16 representatives in Burma’s national-level parliament houses. He was referring to the National ...

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For Kolkata’s brickmakers, small steps matter – Christian Science Monitor

For Kolkata's brickmakers, small steps matter - Christian Science Monitor

KOLKATA, INDIA - On the outskirts of India's third-largest city, 5,000 partly blackened chimneys stand 100 feet high, belching smoke into the sky over millions of reddened bricks below. Some of the bricks are stacked neatly into huge square-cornered stacks, and still more, innumerable, are piled roughly – some broken, ...

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Latest Articles

Indonesia poll upset triggers fresh jockeying – Nikkei Asian Review/RTÉ World Report

April 15th, 2014

NikkeiRTE – radio report here. Broadcast April 20.

Presidential aspirant Prabowo Subianto (right) pictured at pre-election prayer rally in Jakarta. On the left of the photo is Suryadharma Ali (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Presidential aspirant Prabowo Subianto (right) pictured at pre-election prayer rally in Jakarta. On the left of the photo is Suryadharma Ali (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

SOLO, Indonesia — To the surprise of many observers, Indonesia’s main opposition party won only half the votes it had expected in the country’s April 9 legislative elections. A setback for “Indonesia’s Obama,” front-runner Joko Widodo, the result is both an opportunity and a challenge for the other candidates.

Before the vote, public attention centered on Widodo, the Jakarta governor known as Jokowi who was widely expected to succeed Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as Indonesia’s next president.

Widodo’s candidacy was meant to give the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) a boost ahead of the parliamentary vote, which saw a 75% turnout from more than 180 million voters across the sprawling archipelago. (more…)

Mixed results – The Edge Review

April 10th, 2014


No party emerges as knockout winner in Indonesia’s legislative election – digital/app download available here (subscription)

Joko Widodo and wife Iriana after voting in central Jakarta on April 9 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Joko Widodo and wife Iriana after voting in central Jakarta on April 9 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA/SOLO – Early results in Indonesia’s legislative elections held Wednesday showed pre-vote favourite the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) falling well short of a hoped-for 30 per cent showing, with concerns that the party could even fail to cross the 20 per cent threshold needed to nominate a presidential candidate without the backing of a smaller party.

Early tallying of votes showed PDI-P posting just short of 20 per cent of the vote.

Going into the April 9 poll, the PDI-P hoped that pitching Joko Widodo – the flesh-pressing, popular governor of Jakarta – as its presidential candidate would lift the party back to the heights attained in Indonesia’s first post-dictatorship election in 1999, when it won 33 per cent.

“He is a good man, a simple man. Everyone here likes him,” said teacher Hernawan Tri Wahyudi, speaking in Solo, Joko Widodo’s hometown, where he forged his political career as mayor before winning the Jakarta governorship in 2012. (more…)

Myanmar’s (not quite) free media – Nikkei Asian Review

April 4th, 2014


Burmese reporter films Deputy Information Minister and President's spokesman Ye Htut (seated, right) during ASEAN foreign minister's meeting in Bagan in January 2014 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Burmese reporter films Deputy Information Minister and President’s spokesman Ye Htut (seated, right) during ASEAN foreign minister’s meeting in Bagan in January 2014 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

YANGON — After five decades of strict censorship and official suppression, Myanmar’s media are now considered freer than their counterparts in neighboring Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam and the Philippines, according to media watchdog organizations such as Reporters Without Borders.

“We have a free press now,” said Kyaw Min Swe, general secretary of the Interim Press Council, a journalists’ group set up by President Thein Sein to help draft the media law, one of two new journalism codes enacted in mid-March. During 2013, the government issued 31 permits to publish private daily newspapers — in a dramatic break with decades of military rule when only state-run dailies were allowed, including the now partially-privatized New Light of Myanmar.

Encouraging the surge of independent newspapers is the new media law, which aims to ensure the press can “freely criticize, point out or recommend operating procedures of the legislative, the executive and judiciary in conformity with the constitution.” (more…)

Making it count – The Edge Review

April 3rd, 2014


Myanmar kicks off its first census in more than three decades but Rohingya left off list – digital/app download available here (subscription)

By SIMON ROUGHNEEN / Pharmoon, Shan State, Myanmar

Census taking in Pa-O village in Shan State (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Census taking in Pa-O village in Shan State (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

It took around 15 minutes for Than Phay – a stocky, tattooed farmer living with his wife, daughter and 88-year-old mother-in-law – to go through the 41 questions on the pink and white census form.

Sitting in an airy and darkly-varnished timber hut, with a dish of locally-grown strawberries within arms reach of the census form spread over a shin-high table, Than Phay went through the questions with Naing Naing Win, a local teacher working as one of around 100,000 census-takers helping to complete Myanmar’s first population survey in over three decades.

“It was fine, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with [the] questions, and it didn’t take so long,” Than Phay said. (more…)

Moving in – The Edge Review

April 3rd, 2014


Malaysian companies eye-up Myanmar – digital/app download available here (subscription)

YANGON – Malaysian builders are lining up for a piece of Myanmar’s hoped-for overhaul of its rickety infrastructure, with Naypyitaw calling for foreign investors to help lay roads and railways, as well as build more houses for a growing urban population.

Malaysian companies, backed by Putrajaya, see an opportunity. “A lot more Malaysian companies are now coming in to see about the development of Yangon and Myanmar as a whole,” said Sadat Foster, an assistant trade commissioner at Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (Matrade), the state trade agency, during an interview in Yangon. “Myanmar is the last frontier in ASEAN,” he added, “In terms of opportunities, it so big.” (more…)

Controversy marks start to Myanmar’s first census in three decades – Los Angeles Times

March 30th, 2014


Man rides past billboard promoting Myanmar's census in Taunggyi (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Man rides past billboard promoting Myanmar’s census in Taunggyi (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

TAUNGGYI, Myanmar – Wearing a white t-shirt emblazoned with the national census logo, Tin Naing counted off the ethnic groups living in just one section of this regional capital in eastern Myanmar.

“Bamar, Shan, Pa’o, Intha – maybe 10 altogether,” said the bespectacled schoolteacher, who was overseeing 40 census-takers who had been out since dawn Sunday at the start of a 12-day nationwide exercise to count how many people live in this once-ostracized Southeast Asian country.

Documenting Myanmar’s array of ethnicities is but one of the challenges facing the country’s first census in three decades, with critics saying it could spark civil strife by asking delicate questions about identity and religion. Adding to the controversy, on the eve of the census the Myanmar government reneged on a pledge to allow a stateless Muslim minority to list themselves on the survey. (more…)

Water supply strains to meet demands of growing Rangoon – The Irrawaddy

March 28th, 2014


Men dig new water pipe in Rangoon's North Dagon township (Photo: Simon Roughneen

Men dig new water pipe in Rangoon’s North Dagon township (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

RANGOON — As the noontime temperature soared into the high 30s, Tin Oo helped sister Nyaunt Myint, 70, onto a timber bench in the front yard of the family’s home in northern Rangoon.

As the older sister propped her head under a folded towel, Tin Oo, 63, looked on. “She’s not feeling so well in this weather, and the water situation does not help,” said Tin Oo, voice raised above the sonorous incantations blaring out of a nearby Buddhist monastery.

There’s nothing as dramatic as a drought here, but clean water is hard to come by in this suburb of Burma’s biggest city. Here in North Dagon, some residents drill their own backyard wells, hoping to tap groundwater, while others, like Tin Oo’s family, depend on hand pumps set up in the yard and connected to a leaf-covered lake nearby.

Cranking the rusty old pump is heavy work for the elderly, with the hot season now reaching its peak. But for other, less well-off families in the area, getting water means ferrying buckets and jerrycans from the lake—work best left to the young in such heat. (more…)

Burma Lottery chief has vision of vaulting lottery into 21st Century – Asia Gambling Brief

March 28th, 2014


Football gamblers atching opening day of 2013-14 English football season in Tamwe, Rangoon (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Football gamblers watching opening day of 2013-14 English football season in Tamwe, Rangoon (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

YANGON – Myanmar lottery chief Thein Naing sits in an office that could be the set of a colonial era movie – veneered walls trapping Yangon’s musty, late-afternoon summer air – a furnace cooled by a whirring ceiling fan. Outside in the steamy, whitewashed corridor, brown paper-wrapped boxes of lottery tickets are stacked, awaiting distribution to vendors across the Myanmar commercial capital.

Despite the creaky trappings, Thein Naing has big plans to modernise the Aung Bar Lay, the Burmese name for the monthly state-run draw that sells around 30 million tickets priced at 200 kyats (20 U.S. cents) each, and contributes $2 million a month in revenue to state coffers, once prize money is doled-out

“We want to have an electronic, or online lottery, as the ticket lottery is very limited,” says Thein Naing, discussing an early-days proposal to piggy-back the lottery onto some of Myanmar’s communications sector reforms. (more…)

Air safety to be tested as Burma readies for tourism boom – The Irrawaddy

March 27th, 2014


Aircraft belonging to Air KBZ, one of Burma's domestic carriers, parked at Heho Airport, gateway to Shan State in Burma's east (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Aircraft belonging to Air KBZ, one of Burma’s domestic carriers, parked at Heho Airport, gateway to Shan State in Burma’s east (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

RANGOON — As Burma’s economy grows and tourist arrivals rise, aviation safety will be increasingly put to the test in a country long ago described as Southeast Asia’s air travel hub, but which more recently acquired a reputation for having one of the region’s worst air safety records.

“We believe we can handle that,” said Win Swe Tun, deputy director general at the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), when asked by The Irrawaddy if Burma’s air traffic infrastructure could safely manage a possible increase in tourist numbers from 2 million in 2013 to a projected 7 million foreign arrivals per year by 2020.

Earlier, DCA officials speaking at the Myanmar Civil Aviation Conference 2014 said Burma’s air traffic had increased by 32 percent each year over the past two years, with even higher growth expected in the coming years as tourist numbers rise and Burma’s economy expands. (more…)

New film law on the way for Burma – The Irrawaddy

March 25th, 2014


RANGOON — Burma’s Ministry of Information (MOI) is hoping to have a draft Motion Picture Law submitted to Parliament by the end of this year, with the country’s erstwhile film censors saying the proposed regime “will not have serious limitations.”

“We are drafting the new law focusing on the interest of all of the people from the movie world, such as artists, technicians and producers, as well as concerned businessmen and investors. We will also focus on their rights and to promote the movie world,” Thein Htun Aung, director of the MOI’s Myanmar Motion Picture Enterprise (MMPE), told The Irrawaddy on Monday.

The law is being drafted by the Myanmar Motion Picture Organization (MMPO), a sister organization to the MMPE. “For the last two months, we are discussing the draft every Friday,” said Lu Minn, president of the MMPO. (more…)

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