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

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

Whitewash? – The Edge Review

March 21st, 2014


Commission says allegations of massacre of Rohingya are unfounded – digital/app download available here (subscription)

YANGON – On the back foot since January after allegations that at least 40 Rohingya Muslims were murdered in Rakhine State, close to the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, the Naypyitaw Government last week received a vindication of sorts with the publication of a report by an investigation commission sent to the region by Myanmar President Thein Sein.

The United Nations and human rights groups had alleged revenge attacks on Rohingya, who were said to have lynched a Burmese policeman in revenge for earlier alleged disappearances, saw 40 Rohingya killed, with the severed heads of ten dead Rohingya, women and children included, found bobbing in a water tank in the border village of Du Chee Yar Tan.

But the Government-appointed commission concluded that “allegations that the police and the Rakhine community committed acts of atrocity after the death of Police Sergeant Aung Kyaw Thein are unfounded and were circulated by an entity seeking to discredit the present Government of Myanmar.” (more…)

Malaysian firms eye construction prospects in Burma – The Irrawaddy

March 21st, 2014


RANGOON — With its companies doing over US$1.6 billion worth of business in Burma, Malaysia was ranked as the seventh-biggest source of foreign investment into the country by the end of January 2014.

And with Burma’s government touting big plans for upgrading infrastructure such as roads and railways, as well as building more houses for an urbanizing population, Malaysia’s corporate presence in its Southeast Asian neighbor could be set to jump some more, with construction companies eyeing up more than $100 million worth of deals.

“Since the reforms began in Myanmar in 2011, there has been an upsurge in interest from Malaysian companies, which can be seen in the increase in trade figures,” said Sadat Foster, assistant trade commissioner at Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (Matrade), the state trade agency. (more…)

After snubbing loan, Burma awaits China’s response on road link – The Irrawaddy

March 18th, 2014


RANGOON — Burma’s Deputy Construction Minister Win Myint told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that there has not been a response yet from the China about how to proceed with the proposed highway linking the planned Kyaukphyu industrial zone on Burma’s west coast, with Ruili in southwest China.

Unnamed Construction Ministry officials were quoted in Burmese media in early March as saying that Naypyidaw had turned down a proposed US$2bn Chinese loan to build the proposed roadway—a decision confirmed by Win Myint on Tuesday morning.

“We are not going to take the loan,” he told The Irrawaddy, adding that the government prefers that the roadway be developed under a build-operate-transfer (BOT) scheme in which the investors usually recoup their outlay through payments by users, accrued while investors operate the project after it opens.

“If they want to construct this highway they can make a joint venture with a Myanmar company. If they want to build this road from the China side, they are welcome,” the deputy minister said. “But there has been no response yet,” he added. (more…)

Hollywood calling for new Burmese film – The Irrawaddy

March 17th, 2014


RANGOON — Shooting will begin this week on what backers hope will be Burma’s first international cinematic success, a venture undertaken by House of Media Entertainment (HOME), a production company headed by the well-known Burmese comedian and former political prisoner Zarganar.

“Mudras Calling” sounds like a familiar tale—in search of his roots, a young man ends up finding love instead. But the production will be set against what might be some unfamiliar backdrops for foreign viewers, with the cast and crew heading to Mandalay, Bagan and Inle Lake for filming at three of the main draws for Burma’s small but growing tourist market.

The movie’s makers hope to sway organizers of major film festivals to include “Mudras Calling” in their schedules and to pique the interest of international TV networks.

“On Wednesday we’ll start shooting in Bagan. By late summer, we hope to be ready to launch,” Mona Strassburger, the film’s producer, told The Irrawaddy. (more…)

NLD co-founder Win Tin admitted to hospital – The Irrawaddy

March 13th, 2014


Win Tin at an August 2013 event marking 25 years since Burma's 1988 protests against military rule (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Win Tin at an August 2013 event marking 25 years since Burma’s 1988 protests against military rule (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

RANGOON — Win Tin, possibly Burma’s best-known opposition figure after Aung San Suu Kyi, was admitted to Rangoon’s Greencross Hospital overnight due to hip problems.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) co-founder requires physiotherapy for hip problems and is expected to be in hospital for around a week, Zaw Myo Aung, who is Win Tin’s assistant, said Thursday.

Zaw Myo Aung told The Irrawaddy that the 84-year-old politician and former journalist was otherwise in good shape, despite facing several days in a hospital bed. Win Tin was previously hospitalized in September 2013 due to respiratory problems.

“He is in good health and keen to get back to work as soon as possible. The main problem is that his hip means he cannot walk properly,” Zaw Myo Aung said. (more…)

Poll finds Burmese public linking citizenship to Buddhism – The Irrawaddy

March 12th, 2014


RANGOON — A new survey of mostly middle-class Burmese suggests that many of the country’s citizens “seem to think that in order to be Myanmar one has to also be Buddhist.”

The report, Citizenship in Myanmar: Contemporary Debates and Challenges in Light of the Reform Process, was published by Myanmar Egress, a Rangoon think-tank that has advised Burma’s government in the past.

The report is based on a survey of just over 2,000 Burmese spread across the country, polling ethnic minority regions as well as seeking the views of Rohingya, a Muslim minority numbering around one million people, most of whom live in western Arakan State and are denied Burmese citizenship.

The findings suggested that “a very large number of respondents within the Buddhist ethnic groups—i.e. not only Bamar respondents, equate citizenship with religion.” (more…)

Myanmar tourism’s ‘crown jewel’ feels strains of growth – The Irrawaddy

March 10th, 2014


Bagan struggles to balance competing demands as visitors arrive in ever larger numbers

Stalls outside one of Bagan's bigger temples (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Stalls outside one of Bagan’s bigger temples (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Published in the March 2013 print edition of The Irrawaddy

BAGAN - With several dozen A4-sized paintings weighed down with stones on the cobbled forecourt of the Shwegu Gyi pagoda, artist U Aung Aung offers visitors to the shrine an affordable souvenir of their visit—a commissioned painting of the temple for a fee of 10,000 kyat ($US10) or less.

He and brother U Soe Lwin run an impromptu gallery and art shop outside one of the bigger temples making up Bagan’s panoply of around 2,500 mostly red- and brown-bricked pagodas—a renowned tourist draw pulling in around 200,000 visitors in 2013, up from 160,000 the year before.

The brush-wielding brothers depend on the tourist season, which runs from around mid-November to mid-February, with numbers dropping sharply around March or April when temperatures in Bagan, situated on a river bend in Myanmar’s parched dry zone, hit toward 40°C (104°F).

“Some days five, some days 10, some days maybe one or two,” U Aung Aung said, discussing how many paintings the siblings sell each day. (more…)

Camps of last hope – The Edge Review

February 28th, 2014

THEREVIEW-LOGO – digital/app download available here (subscription)

Syrian kids play war in refugee camp in Lebanon (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Syrian kids play war in refugee camp in Lebanon (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

By SIMON ROUGHNEEN / Zahle, Lebanon

Yassir Shebat is still getting used to his new surroundings in a refugee camp on the outskirts of Zahle, a town in eastern Lebanon known for its vineyards and scenic location in a valley between the hills of Beirut and the Syrian border.

“In Aleppo, we had a three bedroom house, a nice life,” Yassir Shebat told The Edge Review, leaning against a pockmarked timber buttress supporting the 4-metre-by-4-metre shelter where he and 14 family members have stayed for the past three weeks.

“Before the war, I mean,” he added, pointing, resignedly, around the claustrophobic interior of the shack.

Syria’s grueling, brutal conflict is just 15 miles from this sun-lit town in the Bekaa Valley, a region that hosts around a third of the estimated one million Syrian refugees now in Lebanon. Around Zahle, the vineyards are interspersed with clusters of shiny white and blue-and-grey tents and tarpaulin-covered shacks.

For Shebat, the fighting is no more than a three-week-old memory. “We moved from place to place, until finally there was nowhere left that was safe,” he said, recalling a terrifying final few months in Lebanon’s war-ravaged neighbour. (more…)

Outcry over new media code in Timor-Leste – The Edge Review

February 21st, 2014

THEREVIEW-LOGO – digital/app download available here (subscription)

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

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

A proposed new media code in Timor-Leste is raising hackles among the country’s press, who see an attempt to impose curbs on journalists and criminalise transgressions in what has been one of the freer press environments in southeast Asia.

The draft law, if passed, would require new journalists to go through a six month internship prior to accreditation and would bar public relations workers, political party leaders and civil servants from working as journalists – with a necessary exception made for those working in public service media.

According to Jose Belo, editor of Dili newspaper Tempo Semanal, whose exposés landed former Justice Minister Lucia Lobato a five year jail term for corruption, the proposed restrictions are out of place.

“The government is trying to limit who can become a journalist or practice journalism, despite it being the era of Facebook, Twitter, blogs and so on,” Mr Belo, who was jailed and tortured by Indonesia during that county’s quarter century occupation of Timor-Leste, told The Edge Review. (more…)

International flight access to Bagan up in the air – The Irrawaddy

February 19th, 2014


Some of Bagan's temples (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Some of Bagan’s temples (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

RANGOON — Burma’s Department of Civil Aviation says international commercial flights to Bagan, a major tourist draw, are unlikely to be granted anytime soon, with charter flights to be the only international air traffic potentially landing near the site’s famed temples for the foreseeable future.

“The current plan is that there will be four international airports in Myanmar—Yangon [Rangoon], Mandalay, Naypyidaw and the new airport, which will be at Hanthawaddy,” said Win Swe Tun, the deputy director of the Department of Civil Aviation, which is part of Burma’s Transport Ministry.

“We are canvassing private sector interest in upgrading several airports and airstrips around the country, including at Bagan and Pakokku [in Magwe Division], but international arrivals to these will likely be just charter flights,” Win Swe Tun told The Irrawaddy.

Earlier, tourism sector representatives had talked-up hopes of making Bagan accessible to foreign commercial flights, possibly landing at Pakokku, 30 kilometers northeast of Bagan on the west bank of the Irrawaddy River. (more…)

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