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

June 13th, 2014

Nikkei

http://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Trends/Myanmar-Japan-see-promise-problems-in-economic-zone

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…)


A land of punters – The Edge Review

June 6th, 2014

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Myanmar’s gambling mad fans gear up for the World Cup

Football gamblers watching 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)

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YANGON – Gambling is illegal in Myanmar, but that doesn’t stop millions of Burmese from playing the odds. Number-based games are popular, such as placing wagers on the daily ups and downs of the Stock Exchange of Thailand – but most of the money seems to go on football betting.

Min Maung, a small-time bookie operating from his parents’ house in northern Yangon, says he makes around 70 per cent of his average monthly income of US$200 during the European football season. And every four years, there’s the bonus of a World Cup, the global footballing pinnacle where 32 countries compete to be world champion – and extending the football season by a few extra weeks.

Football betting is prohibited, and of course Min Maung is not this bookie’s real name. Gambling is but one sector of a massive off-the-books economy in Myanmar that sees US$8billion and US$5.7 billion, respectively, in jade and logging earnings leave the country illicitly every year. Officials in Myanmar’s military-dominated government also downplay the amount of the country’s vast oil and gas revenues, allegedly to facilitate stashing funds in private banks in Singapore. (more…)


Unclear whether Aung San Suu Kyi will attend Sittwe reform rally – The Irrawaddy

June 3rd, 2014

irrawaddy

http://www.irrawaddy.org/burma/suu-kyis-attendance-unsure-planned-sittwe-reform-rally.html

Aung San Suu Kyi addresses constitutional reform rally in Yangon on May 17

Aung San Suu Kyi addresses constitutional reform rally in Yangon on May 17

RANGOON — Aung San Suu Kyi’s constitutional reform roadshow is due to hit Sittwe sometime over the coming weeks, but it is not yet confirmed whether the opposition leader will speak in the troubled Arakan State capital.

“It is not sure yet whether The Lady will travel,” said Kyi Toe, a senior member of the National League for Democracy (NLD), referring to Suu Kyi by her popular nickname.

“We are still in planning,” Kyi Toe told The Irrawaddy on Monday. With Suu Kyi, an MP, currently attending the recently reconvened Parliament in Naypyidaw, June 28 and July 12 dates have been proposed for the event. (more…)


AEC jitters – The Edge Review

May 30th, 2014

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Businesses in Myanmar not ready to take on ASEAN rivals

www.theedgereview.com – app/digital magazine available here (subscription required)

Burma Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin (l) and ASEAN S-G Lê Lương Minh pictured after joint press conference in Bagan in January 2014 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Burma Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin (l) and ASEAN S-G Lê Lương Minh pictured after joint press conference in Bagan in January 2014 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

 

YANGON – Ahead of the proposed establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) at the end of 2015, many of Myanmar’s businesses are trembling.

“There is a perception among people in Myanmar that local products are low quality,” said Nwe Ni Wai, Executive Director of Yangon-based United Paint Group. She worried aloud that companies in Myanmar might struggle to compete with rivals from more advanced markets in the region, and in turn might struggle to make the most of opportunities in other markets.

Nwe Ni Wai’s concerns were echoed in part by the boss of one of Myanmar’s leading conglomerates –  beverage maker Loi Hein. “Thai products are familiar to the Myanmar consumer,” said Loi Hein chairman Sai Sam Htun, who in turn wondered “will the Thai customer trust in our Myanmar products?” (more…)


The fight for Myanmar’s constitution – Nikkei Asian Review

May 29th, 2014

Nikkei

http://asia.nikkei.com/Politics-Economy/Policy-Politics/The-fight-for-Myanmar-s-constitution

Yangon crowd reacts to Aung San Suu Kyi's exhortation to persuade the army to change the constitution (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Yangon crowd reacts to Aung San Suu Kyi’s exhortation to persuade the army to change the constitution (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

YANGON — The Lady wants to be President. The constitution says otherwise. Roughly 18 months from national elections that will determine Myanmar’s next president, opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi does not have much time to seek changes to rules that bar her from the highest office.

Myanmar’s military-backed government has been reluctant to support changes to the charter, and a parliamentary committee on constitutional reform is moving slowly. In response, Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), has taken her “constitutional change” campaign to the streets, teaming up with high-profile former student dissidents at rallies in Myanmar’s two biggest cities, Yangon and Mandalay, in mid-May.

Since declaring her desire in 2012 to become Myanmar’s next president, Suu Kyi has intensified her campaign to have the country’s 2008 constitution amended. Her main concern is Article 59f, which bars anyone from the presidency whose parents, spouse or children hold foreign citizenship. Suu Kyi’s late husband was British and her two sons hold U.K. citizenship. (more…)


Burma factories warn of rise in strikes fueled by activists – The Irrawaddy

May 28th, 2014

irrawaddy

http://www.irrawaddy.org/business/burma-factories-warn-rise-strikes-fueled-activists.html

RANGOON — Representatives of Burma’s garment-makers say that prominent former political prisoners are getting involved in labor disputes, and warn that more strikes are likely in the run up to national elections slated for late 2015.

Kazuto Yamazaki, Deputy Managing Director of Famoso Clothing Co., Ltd, a garment factory located in northern Rangoon and employing 1,200 workers, said that many of the city’s strikes “are initiated by political groups.”

Yamazaki said that members of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, a prominent group of former student dissidents and political prisoners, participated in an arbitration meeting chaired by the Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Security, after workers at Famoso went on strike last year in pursuit of a wage increase. (more…)


Burmese Govt urges foreign investors to ‘take the plunge’ – The Irrawaddy

May 26th, 2014

irrawaddy

http://www.irrawaddy.org/business/burmese-govt-urges-foreign-investors-take-plunge.html

Through a new “one-stop” office in Rangoon, the country’s investment body is looking to make it easier for international firms to enter the frontier economy.

Dr Aung Tun Thet speaks at manufacturing conference in Rangoon on May 26 2014 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Dr Aung Tun Thet speaks to investors in Rangoon on May 26 2014 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

RANGOON — Despite lingering infrastructure problems such as the country’s poor roads and patchy power supply, Burma’s government wants foreign businesses to be less cagey about investing in the much-touted frontier economy. Aung Tun Thet, an economics advisor to President Thein Sein, implored would-be investors on Monday to “please take a risk, please take the plunge,” when weighing-up whether or not to establish operations in Burma. Lamenting the bet-hedging disposition of some business representatives who visit Burma, Aung Tun Thet said, “Sometimes you come, you look, you see, you go away.” (more…)


Ceasefire talks make progress despite Kachin war – The Irrawaddy

May 23rd, 2014

irrawaddy

http://www.irrawaddy.org/burma/ceasefire-talks-progress-despite-kachin-war.html

President’s Office Minister Aung Min conferring with army delegates at ceasefire talks in Rangoon on Thursday. (Photo: Simon Roughneen

President’s Office Minister Aung Min conferring with army delegates at ceasefire talks in Rangoon on Thursday. (Photo: Simon Roughneen

RANGOON — As representatives of Burma’s government and ethnic militias met this week to finish a second draft of a proposed nationwide ceasefire accord, it appeared that negotiations were largely unaffected by fighting in the country’s north.

“We are not discussing ongoing issues on the battlefield—we were discussing issues of the text,” Salai Lian H. Sakhong, director of the Burma Centre for Ethnic Studies and a representative of the Chin National Front (CNF), one of the ethnic militias, told The Irrawaddy on Friday after three days of negotiations in Rangoon.

He said the conflict in Kachin State needed to end before a nationwide ceasefire could be signed, but that the government and leaders of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) had effectively carved off their war from the broader ceasefire discussions.

“The KIA and the government met separately in Myitkyina not so long ago,” he said, referring to talks in the Kachin State capital earlier this month. (more…)


Meth-making – The Edge Review

May 21st, 2014

THEREVIEW-LOGO

Myanmar at the heart of Asia’s synthetic drugs boom

www.theedgereview.com – app/digital magazine available here (subscription required)

Male detainees at the KIA drug rehabilitation facility in Laiza (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Male detainees at the KIA drug rehabilitation facility in Laiza (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

YANGON – Located at the intersection of China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, the Golden Triangle has long been a legendary cocktail mixing the real and the mythological. Verdant and clotted jungles and remote mountainous terrain – havens for an alphabet soup of anti-junta militias and oppressed tribes – made for a heady romanticism that sometimes obscured the deadly reality of the region’s chief cash crop.

Until the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, the region supplied much of the world’s heroin, sourced from poppy-fields in eastern and northern Myanmar. The drugs came, and come, from regions sometimes in and sometimes outside of central government control, and have long been a source of income for corrupt officials and soldiers, as well as ethnic minority druglords and warlords. (more…)


A fragile process – The Edge Review

May 6th, 2014

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Pictured at a camp in Mai Ja Yang near the Burma -China border in early 2012, this man was driven from his home in northern Shan state by fighting between the Burmese army and the KIA (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Pictured at a camp in Mai Ja Yang near the Burma -China border in early 2012, this man was driven from his home in northern Shan state by fighting between the Burmese army and the KIA (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Peace talks with Myanmar’s minority militias inch forward

By SIMON ROUGHNEEN / Yangon

Inside the Myanmar Peace Center, a Yangon-based governmental body, a line of green-uniformed generals and white-shirted government officials reached across the narrow line of tables dividing the hall in two, each taking the hand of a representative of the country’s ethnic minority militias. Some of the latter wore suits, while others wore tribal dress. Both sides wore smiles, some perhaps a bit more forced than others, and all paused hand-in-hand to pose for a few seconds for a dozen or so jostling photographers.

Myanmar has been host to some of the world’s longest-running civil wars. These grueling, decades-long campaigns have played out in the country’s impoverished, drug-producing mountain borderlands and jungles , and have been marked by numerous instances of forced labour, abduction of children and sexual violence carried out by government troops. More than 100,000 refugees from the violence remain in Thailand, thousands more are in China, while tens of thousands have settled in the West. Inside Myanmar, there are hundreds of thousands of people left homeless by conflicts old and new. (more…)


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