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

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…)

A land of punters – The Edge Review

June 6th, 2014


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) – app/digital magazine available here (subscription required)

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…)

Looking ahead to Brazil – The Edge Review

June 6th, 2014


Previewing how the 2014 World Cup could go, from an Asian perspective

Burmese supporters cheer their team's goal v Thailand on Dec. 15 2013 (Photo - Simon Roughneen)

Burmese supporters cheer their team’s goal v Thailand on Dec. 15 2013 (Photo – Simon Roughneen) – app/digital magazine available here (subscription required)

YANGON – While no Asian country is likely to match South Korea’s run to the semi-finals on home soil in 2002, Japan and South Korea have a good chance at repeating their 2010 achievements by qualifying for the knockout rounds in the 2014 World Cup. For Iran and Australia, Asia’s other contenders, escaping the initial pool stages looks less likely, with the Australians drawn in an inescapable-looking cliff-face group.

Iran might be the top team in Asia according to FIFA’s clunky ranking system, but football watchers regard Japan as the region’s best. The 2002 World Cup co-hosts have players lining out for some of Europe’s top clubs, such as Shinji Kagawa at Manchester United and AC Milan’s Keisuke Honda. Placed in Group C, to play Colombia, Greece and Ivory Coast, Japan will go into the tournament as viable contenders to make the knockout round of 16. (more…)

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

June 3rd, 2014


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


Businesses in Myanmar not ready to take on ASEAN rivals – 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


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


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


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…)

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