YANGON – “I was in Calcutta, my niece phoned me to say that she saw my name on a list of the names of the cardinals announced by the Holy Father. I thought she was joking at first.” said Charles Maung Bo, Myanmar’s first Catholic cardinal. That was how the 66 year old Archbishop of Yangon found out back on Jan. 4 that he was to be one of 20 new cardinals appointed by Pope Francis. “He wants to show the universality of the whole church and he wants to hear the voice from the different people,” said Cardinal Bo, assessing the pope’s motives for naming new cardinals from Vietnam and Thailand, as well as Myanmar, which last year marked 5 centuries of Catholic Church presence in the country.
YANGON – For the Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees rescued near Aceh, the fishermen’s heroics ended what for some was a four month ordeal at sea. “When they were found by the fishermen they were all incredibly weak and many were barely conscious, especially the women and children. Those who were conscious were crying for help. Some jumped into the sea when they saw the fishermen approach asking to be rescued,” said Nasruddin, Humanitarian Coordinator for The Geutanyoe Foundation, which has been working with the survivors. “We have a wisdom that called in local language as “Pemulia Jamee Adat Geutanyoe” or ‘serving the guest is our ritual,’ said Teuku Youvan, a member of the Aceh Disaster Management Agency’s advisory board.
YANGON – Bodies buried in the jungle, camps hurriedly abandoned, officials arrested, police suspended from duty, thousands of desperate refugees adrift at sea and pushed back into international waters by foreign navies. Muslim Rohingya have been fleeing discrimination in Myanmar by running a gauntlet of extortion, rape, starvation and sometimes execution in the remote jungles of Thailand’s south, a usual way station en route to Malaysia. But after a recent crackdown on traffickers by Thailand, thousands of distressed refugees are being pushed back to sea by Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand as they attempt to dock, their boats abandoned by crew.
YANGON – Asked about Shwe Mann’s political eyelash-batting, however, the NLD’s Han Tha Myint stressed it was too early to discuss post-election possibilities, much less commit to backing Shwe Mann. “He has to deal with his colleagues in the party first,” said Han Tha Myint, the NLD’s economics point man and now party spokesman. “We don’t have any official stance on [forming a coalition with him].”
YANGON — In an upbeat tour of China and the U.S. in recent days, Myanmar Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann made every effort to look and sound presidential. Ditching his usual longyi, or sarong, for a sharp Western suit, Shwe Mann told a gathering at a U.S. think tank that “if the USDP nominates me as presidential candidate, I am happy to accept.” Shwe Mann, who also chairs the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, first spoke of his presidential ambitions almost two years ago. Now, six months before national elections, the former No. 3 in Myanmar’s previous military junta is among a handful of contenders jostling for position as the race for the presidency kicks into gear.
YANGON – Aung Soe, deputy director general of the commerce ministry’s trade promotion department, told the Nikkei Asian Review that “we are still mainly exporting primary products, but we hope this is the beginning of an increase in productivity and competitiveness.” But billions of dollars worth of logs, gems and opium have been smuggled out of Myanmar in recent decades, distorting one of the world’s poorest economies but guaranteeing huge wealth for connected elites. Meanwhile, owners of small and medium-sized enterprises, the majority of the country’s businesses, have typically found it difficult to get bank loans due to stringent borrowing requirements, denying them vital funds to grow their businesses or to finance exports.
YANGON – In Myanmar, about 1.1 million kids start school each year in Myanmar, but of these only about 10 per cent finish high school, mostly those from cities and better-off families. Only one third of children from rural poor households manage to finish middle school. Such attrition makes it hard for companies who need educated, trained staff. “Businesses say that the second-biggest constraint to working in Myanmar is human resources,” said Christopher Spohr, an Asian Development Bank researcher.
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.”
YANGON – The emergence of malarial parasites resistant to the front-line treatment artemisinin could put hundreds of millions of people are at risk, according to new research in The Lancet. Drug-resistant malaria was found just 25km from the Indian border in northwestern Myanmar, a country that is now considered “the frontline in the battle against artemisinin resistance as it forms a gateway for resistance to spread to the rest of the world,” according to Dr. Charles Woodrow of the Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit, senior author of the new study.
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.