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Pulp fiction – The Edge Review

Forest preservationist Mardiana Deren speaking on Bali in early August  2014 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – Indonesia’s vast but much-plundered forests are likely to be further degraded in coming years as the country’s pulp and paper sector expands. That’s according to new research suggesting that 30 per cent of timber used in industry comes from illegal and unsustainable sources. Conservationists believe that of Indonesia’s pulp and paper mills were to operate at full capacity, and if companies were to go forward with plans for multi-billion dollar investments in new mills, the industry would need to double its legal supply of wood to meet demand.

Suu Kyi’s party drops first hints on plans – Nikkei Asian Review

Aung San Suu Kyi speaking at June 2013 World Economic Forum debate in Naypyidaw (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

YANGON – In a rare discussion of the party’s economic thinking, Han Tha Myint said the NLD wants to press on with the liberalization of the banking sector. In October 2014, nine foreign banks were awarded restricted licenses to operate in Myanmar as part of a gradual opening up to foreign investment. Foreign banks are limited to a single branch each, cannot serve individuals or locally owned companies, and are prohibited from making loans in kyat, the local currency. Han Tha Myint maintained the NLD would loosen these restrictions, saying, “It will be much better for the economy.”

Malarial malady in Myanmar – The Edge Review

Mae La refugee camp, north of Mae Sot in Thailand, and home to tens of thousands of Burmese refugees from a region where drug resistant malaria is re-emerging (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

YANGON – Southeast Asia is a potential flashpoint in the global fight to control malaria, with the widespread emergence of malarial parasites resistant to the front-line treatment artemisinin. Now researchers fear hundreds of millions of people are at risk in South Asia after drug-resistant malaria was found just 25 kilometres from the Indian border in northwestern Myanmar. “Emergence of artemisinin resistance in Southeast Asia poses a serious threat to the global control of Plasmodium falciparum malaria,” reads a new research report published in renowned medical journal The Lancet.

Myanmar education battleground sees a rare compromise – Nikkei Asian Review

Protestor seeking education reform marching in Yangon on Feb. 8 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

YANGON – After 3 months of protest, a Feb. 10 deal on education reform allows activists help revise a divisive education law passed last year. Zaw Htay, a senior officer in President Thein Sein’s administration, told the Nikkei Asian Review that the deal between the government and the protestors was historic. “There has never been a compromise like this between the government and students in our history,” said Zaw Htay. But whether or not the education stand-off is over will depend on how parliamentarians react to the revised law. “So far, this is just a paper agreement, so we will wait and see what the parliament does,” lawyer Robert San Aung told the Nikkei Asia Review.

A doctor for Timor’s growing pains – The Edge Review

Fretilin's Mari Alkatiri (white shirt, seated), one of East Timor's long-standing political elite (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

YANGON – Gusmão’s tenure saw economic growth hit double digits on the back of oil and gas revenues. New roads have been built, linking isolated mountain villages to nearby towns, and electricity has been provided to 60 per cent of the population in what remains one of Asia’s poorest countries. “He kept the peace and investment increased,” said Tony Jape, a leading Timorese businessman and founder of Dili’s largest shopping mall. But two of Gusmão’s ministers were charged with corruption during his time as prime minister, while connected cadres from the resistance era have often had the first options on juicy government contracts for new roads. This comes on top of controversial pensions for veterans, which, although already exceeding the health budget, will be doubled in 2015 to close in on the education budget of US$140 million.

Indonesia’s eel pioneer pins hopes on “Jawa Unagi” – Nikkei Asian Review

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PELABUHAN RATU, INDONESIA — This small fishing town on Java’s southwest coast is best known for the legendary sea queen Nyi Roro Kidul, a spurned princess turned mermaid who is said to snatch whatever man takes her fancy from the miles of beach that forms the town’s frontier with the Indian Ocean. But the predatory queen is not the only marine enigma swimming through the turbulent undertow off the rain-swept coast.  For Hisayasu Ishitani, a chain smoking 72-year old Japanese, now in his 5th decade in Indonesia, the local waters mean a plentiful supply of eel — and the opportunity to fill a growing market gap in his Japanese homeland.

Gusmao resigns as East Timor PM – Nikkei Asian Review

Former East Timor PM Xanana Gusmao holds court at CNRT meeting on July 8  2012, after winning parliamentary elections (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – Xanana Gusmao, the former leader of East Timor’s separatist revolt against Indonesian rule, resigned as the young country’s prime minister on Friday morning. The move follows a year of speculation that Gusmao would step down before the end of his term in 2017 due to ill health. At one point, he had said he would resign in September 2014. A replacement for Gusmao, 68, has not been named. Speculation centers on Rui Araujo, a former health minister. Former President Jose Ramos-Horta called Araujo “an outstanding leader – honest, experienced, humble,” in comments to the Nikkei Asian Review.

Blood on their minds – The Edge Review

At a screening of The Look of SIlence in Jakarta  on Feb, 2  2014 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – In a darkened university classroom in east Jakarta earlier this week, 50 or so students looked straight ahead, silent. On screen in front, a shriveled, twitchy old man recounted how he killed, often gruesomely, a half century before. “Human blood tastes both salty and sweet, did you know that?” Inong, the murderer, said. He was recounting a half century old memory – that of his own savagery carried out during Indonesia’s mass killings of 1965-66. The footage appears in director Joshua Oppenheimer’s latest, The Look of Silence, which was given a rare airing in the Indonesian capital.

Courting China – The Edge Review

Train station in Jakarta. Indonesia's government is keen to upgrade the country's transport infrastructure (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – Indonesia’s government hopes to double infrastructure spending in the coming year. China recently established a new regional infrastructure investment bank. “China can bring both finance and project skills to Indonesia,” said Peter McCawley, an infrastructure focused economist at Australian National University. “In the last 20 years, China has shown a truly astonishing ability to construct infrastructure investments within China.”

Widodo faces crisis over police chief saga – Nikkei Asian Review

Protestors outside Indonesia's anti corruption agency on Jan. 23 2014 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – The power struggle surrounding Indonesia’s search for a new chief of police escalated Friday morning with the arrest of prominent anti-graft official Bambang Widjojanto on charges of inciting perjury. Widjojanto is deputy head of the Corruption Eradication Commission, known by its Indonesian initials as the KPK. The agency had earlier indicted Budi Gunawan, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s nominee for police chief, on charges of accepting gifts and bribes.Nursyabani Katjasungkana, a lawyer with the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation, said that Widjojanto’s arrest was a retaliation against the KPK by the police. “This cannot be separated from the context of the KPK investigation into the nominee for chief of police, Katjasungkana said, speaking at the Jakarta police station where Widjojanto was being detained.