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

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

Electoral shadow play – The Edge Review

July 18th, 2014


Tension, maneuvering ahead of Indonesia’s presidential election result

Prabowo Subianto and running mate Hatta Rajasa shake hands at Proclamation Monument, Jakarta,  July 14 2014 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Prabowo Subianto and running mate Hatta Rajasa shake hands at Proclamation Monument, Jakarta, July 14 2014 (Photo: Simon Roughneen) – app/digital magazine available here (subscription required)

JAKARTA – “I’ll see your election victory proclamation, and raise you an unbreakable five-year parliamentary coalition plan.”

Unsaid, of course, but that was the implied challenge issued by Indonesian presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto to his rival Joko Widodo last Monday evening, announcing what he described as a “permanent” amalgam of parties in Indonesia’s incoming parliament – a bloc holding over 60 per cent of seats – which he would effectively lead.

“This is an overall coalition in the national and the regional and district legislatures ” declared Prabowo, sitting, legs-folded, on a stage at Proclamation Monument in Jakarta, surrounded by party leaders.

Five days earlier, after voting had closed on July 9, Joko made a beeline for Proclamation Monument to deliver a snap victory speech at the evocative site of Indonesia’s 1945 declaration of independence. Prabowo’s commandeering of the plaza last Monday was meant as a peremptory rebuttal of Joko’s claim to victory. (more…)

In Aceh, hope that election can boost economy – RTÉ World Report

July 13th, 2014


radio report here -

Shopping for vegetables, downtown Banda Aceh (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Shopping for vegetables, downtown Banda Aceh (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

BANDA ACEH – Almost a decade on from the ruinous, deadly 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Banda Aceh is back on its feet.

Last Wednesday, people in the province were on their feet, voting, along with almost 200 million other Indonesians, in the third presidential election held since ousting of dictator Suharto back amid economic collapse back in 1998.

In the intervening 16 years, Indonesia has become one of Asia’s more vibrant democracies, a political transition that has underpinned a halving of poverty in a country that stretches around 3000 miles and comprises more than 17,000 islands. (more…)

It ain’t over yet – The Edge Review

July 11th, 2014

THEREVIEW-LOGO – app/digital magazine available here (subscription required)

Prabowo Subianto at  prayer event in Jakarta prior to April 2014 legislative elections (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Prabowo Subianto at prayer event in Jakarta prior to April 2014 legislative elections (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA/BANDA ACEH – Late Wednesday night, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono held somber-sounding meetings with the two men claiming to have won the right to replace him, after elections held earlier that same day.

The incumbent, who will step down in October and is known by his initials “SBY,” asked the contestants – Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo, and Prabowo Subianto, the one-time head of Indonesias’s special forces – to rein in their supporters, pending official election results on July 22.

“The President asked us to restrain our celebrations. We agreed to comply so I called on volunteers, supporters and party cadres to not hold any celebrations starting tomorrow,” said Widodo, who is known to all as “Jokowi” and who made his name as mayor of Solo, his east Javan hometown.

SBY’s winnowed-out Democrat Party – its vote bisected in April legislative elections – backed Prabowo’s campaign. The former arny man’s running mate was Hatta Rajasa, a minister in Yudhoyono’s government and whose daughter is married to the current President’s son. (more…)

Both candidates claim victory in tight Indonesian election – Los Angeles Times

July 9th, 2014


Vote counting at polling station on Jalan Lembang, Jakarta, on Wednesday afternoon July 9 2014  (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Vote counting at polling station on Jalan Lembang, Jakarta, on Wednesday afternoon July 9 2014 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – Both candidates claimed victory Wednesday in Indonesia’s presidential election, the tightest race since the former Southeast Asian dictatorship made the transition to democratic politics less than two decades ago.

Joko Widodo, the popular governor of the capital city, Jakarta, said he had won based on samples of votes being counted at 480,000 polling stations nationwide that gave him a lead of between 4 and 6 percentage points. The so-called quick counts have accurately forecast results in the last several national elections.

But Widodo’s rival, Prabowo Subianto, a former head of Indonesia’s special forces, refused to concede defeat. An hour after Widodo delivered a victory speech – at the plaza where the former Dutch possession declared independence in 1945 – Subianto told supporters that “our team has won in many provinces and many areas.” (more…)

Stand-off grows over disputed Indonesian election – Nikkei Asian Review

July 9th, 2014


Joko Widodo and wife Iriana pictured at Taman Suropati, central Jakarta, where they voted on  July 9 2014 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Joko Widodo and wife Iriana pictured at Taman Suropati, central Jakarta, where they voted on July 9 2014 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — A stand-off deepened on Wednesday evening in Jakarta with both contestants in a fiercely contested presidential election claiming the right to govern the archipelago of 17,000 islands and its 250 million people.

The vote was Indonesia’s third direct presidential poll since the end of authoritiarian rule in 1998, and pitted a relic of the old era — the former general Prabowo Subianto — against Joko Widodo, Jakarta governor and a relative neophyte who rose to prominence after 2005 on the back of a successful tenure as mayor of Solo, a city in east Java.

Shortly after declaring victory, the pre-vote favorite Widodo, who goes by the nickname “Jokowi” told Nikkei Asian Review as he left a meeting with former President Megawati that “Indonesia already decided, and this is a great day for all Indonesians.”


Aceh vote likely split in Indonesian election – Nikkei Asian Review

July 9th, 2014


View of Banda Aceh from tsunami evacuation tower, built on the coast after the 2004 disaster (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

View of Banda Aceh from tsunami evacuation tower, built on the coast after the 2004 disaster (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia — Almost a decade after a devastating earthquake and tsunami killed 170,000 people in Aceh, voters in Indonesia’s northwestern-most province are gearing up to have their say in today’s presidential election.

The December 2004 tsunami devastated large parts of the province and flattened much of regional capital Banda Aceh. But it also paved the way for a long-sought peace agreement between Acehnese separatists and the Indonesian government, signed in 2005. The deal gave the region “special territory” status, giving it greater autonomy than other provinces of the vast Indonesian archipelago.

With fewer than 5 million of Indonesia’s almost 250 million people, Aceh does not loom large in national elections. How the territory votes is unlikely to be decisive, unless the contest between presidential candidates Prabowo Subianto, a gruff, former special forces commander, and Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, the soft-spoken governor of Jakarta, comes down to the wire. (more…)

Down to the wire – The Edge Review

July 4th, 2014


Who will rule southeast Asia’s biggest country? Too close to call

Campaign billboard for Prabowo Subianto, Banda Aceh (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Campaign billboard for Prabowo Subianto, Banda Aceh (Photo: Simon Roughneen) – app/digital magazine available here (subscription required)

JAKARTA – In the penultimate week of the campaign to elect Indonesia’s next president, both candidates in an increasingly-tight race tried to refute malign contentions about their suitability for office in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country and third-biggest democracy.

Midway through the first week of Ramadan, Joko Widodo visited Islamic schools in West Java, a vote-heavy province on the island where around 60% of Indonesia’s near 250 million people live. There he prayed with clerics and handed out iftar (fast-breaking) snacks to the faithful, a show of piety that came after a potentially-damaging smear campaign – spread in part through a tabloid handed out in Islamic schools – that branded him as a closet Christian of Chinese descent, rather than a Javanese Muslim.

In response, the would-be president has been handing out his own newspaper, saying “we wanted to convey correct information through our own tabloid. There is no need to create a tabloid that puts down others,” according to Tribun News, an Indonesian newspaper. (more…)

Sri Lanka tea plantations go greener – The Christian Science Monitor

June 30th, 2014


Bandulla Herath on his farm (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Bandulla Herath on his farm (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Indigahadoowa, Sri Lanka – Tea-grower D.M. Sudumenink is nearly 70 years old and has won prizes for her produce. All the same, the retired schoolteacher is keen to know more about how she can improve her tea-growing and keep her cropland clean.

With 300 other farmers working the hills around Indigahadoowa in the tea-growing mountains in the southern, central part of the island, Ms. Sudumenink is getting training on, among other things, how to work using less chemical fertilizer and how to ensure better working conditions for tea-pickers in her pay.

The idea is that these small plantations, ranging in size from a half acre to 10 acres, will receive certification from the Rainforest Alliance (RA), a conservation-minded organization whose green frog logo appears on goods for sale in the likes of Walmart and Costco and on tea brands such as Lipton and PG Tips. (more…)

Growing economy darkens Sri Lanka’s tea future – Nikkei Asian Review

June 29th, 2014

Nikkei  (published in July 10 NAR print edition)

Tea-plucking outside Nuwara Eliya (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Tea-plucking outside Nuwara Eliya (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

NUWARA ELIYA, Sri Lanka — K. Sagunthaladavi, 36, has spent half her life among the waist-high bushes that cover the verdurous slopes of Sri Lanka’s tea country, plucking hundreds of thousands of the green leaves used to make one of the world’s oldest and most popular drinks.

     It is June, and the Yala monsoon is blowing, which means Sagunthaladavi is working hurriedly. “During the season I can take 30kg a day,” she said. “Off season, 18, maybe 20(kg).”

     Like most of Sri Lanka’s tea plantation workers, Sagunthaladavi is descended from migrant laborers brought by British colonialists to Sri Lanka from Tamil Nadu, in India, back when Sri Lanka was called Ceylon and was part of the British Empire. (more…)

Myanmar, Japan see promise, problems in economic zone – Nikkei Asian Review

June 13th, 2014


At the Thilawa SEZ site office (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

At the Thilawa SEZ site office (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

THILAWA, Myanmar — The Thilawa Special Economic Zone might be just a 45-minute drive from downtown Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city and commercial hub, but the Japanese presence is unmissable.

Outside the site offices — an island of prefabricated shelters surrounded by acres of upturned earth — a row of six flags dries in the breeze after a short downpour. The yellow, green and red of Myanmar alternates with Japan’s unmistakable red sun on a white background.

“A monumental project strongly supported by both Myanmar and Japan government,” reads a brochure handed out by Myanmar Thilawa SEZ Holdings, which comprises nine local companies and is the project’s largest shareholder.

Inside, local and Japanese staff share desk space. The men and women working on the early stages of the mammoth 2,400-hectare industrial estate are just as likely to be heard speaking Japanese as they are the Myanmar language. (more…)

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