BANGKOK – Last year’s census was Myanmar’s first in over 3 decades but so far there has been no mention of how many of Myanmar’s 51.4 million people are Buddhist, the majority religion, and how many are Christian, Hindu and Muslim. Also withheld for now are crucial data on the country’s ethnic make-up. Estimates suggest that around 60 per cent of the population is Burman, with the rest made up of dozens of minorities. The government’s official classification lists 135 ethnic groups, though many dispute the methodology by which officials came up with that glossary. Khon Ja, an activist from Kachin state, a mostly-Christian region in northern Myanmar, said at the time of the census-taking last year that “my group is listed four times under different names, even using a geographic location as a tribe name.”
BANGKOK – For Rohingya, it surely seemed as if the Myanmar government was not taking the meeting seriously, much less committing to addressing the decades of discrimination and bias that prompt thousands of Rohingya to risk kidnapping and destitution overseas. “The [Myanmar] government just sent a low-level delegation. There was not even a Rohingya representative speaking at the meeting,” said Aung Win ,a Rohingya community leader speaking by telephone from a Muslim ghetto on the outskirts of Sittwe, the regional capital of Rakhine state.
BANGKOK – “According to the information given to me by those who come back from the boats, there are no more now offshore,” said Kyaw Hla, a Rohingya businessman who paid out of his own pocket for the safe return to Sittwe of 75 trafficked Rohingya. “I paid 200,000 Myanmar kyat (about US$200) for each human person,” Kyaw Hla told The Edge Review. With the annual rainy season about to hit the Bay of Bengal and surrounding countries, the exodus of Rohingya and Bangladeshis will cease, for now, said Kyaw Hla. But unless conditions improve over the coming months, more Rohingya will likely take to the sea again come October, when the clouds break and the wind and rains stop and the boats point south toward Thailand and Malaysia once more.
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].”
PELABUHAN RATU – Europe’s eels, previously an alternative for Japanese foodies, are also listed as endangered, partly as not enough is known about how that species of eel survives in the ocean before making its way to fresh water. A recent research paper into the sector published by Bogor Agricultural University in Indonesia noted the decline in numbers of Japanese and European eel. “As a consequence,” the researchers noted, “tropical eels become important eel nowadays in the market.” The upshot for Indonesia, according to Toni Ruchimat, who is Director of Fisheries Resources at Indonesia’s Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, is that the vast archipelago could quickly double its current eel exports.
JAKARTA – “Please come and invest in Indonesia. Because where we see challenges, I see opportunity. And if you have any problem, call me.” President Joko Widodo’s plea from the podium to World Economic Forum delegates meeting in Jakarta this week was typical of the personal style that the homespun politician crafted first as mayor of his hometown Solo and later governor of Jakarta. His message was intended to show that he is in for the long haul when it comes to overcoming obstacles to investment.
KAITEHU – “Two hours walk, it grows there,” Bendita Ramos said, pointing back over her shoulder and beyond her pink-painted 2 room house toward mist-shrouded hills behind. She was talking about bitter bean, a poisonous legume growing wild in the Timorese countryside. The bean needs arduous and careful preparation before it can be eaten as a supplement to a corn and rice-dominated diet. “We have to boil it 7 or 8 times, and change the water each time,” Ramos said.