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

MSF, Human Rights Commission at odds over Maungdaw violence – The Irrawaddy

February 17th, 2014


RANGOON — Burma’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the medical aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) are at odds over the latter’s statement that it treated 22 people injured during clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in Arakan State’s Maungdaw Township, near the Burma-Bangladesh border.

MSF, sometimes called Doctors Without Borders, said in January that it “treated at least 22 patients, including several wounded, that are believed to be victims of the violence that erupted in Du Char Yar Tan village, in southern Maungdaw Township.”

But in its newly published account of a recent investigation into the alleged Jan. 9-13 killings of 48 Muslim Rohingya, as well as a policeman said to have been killed by Rohingya, the NHRC said “it was learned from 2 doctors of the MSF that their clinics did not treat any such patients.”

MSF Burma Head of Mission Peter-Paul de Groote, however, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that “MSF is not in a position to comment on the findings of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, however we can confirm that our staff treated 22 patients in the area near Du Char Yar Tan village from a variety of violence-related injuries in the days after January 14.” (more…)

No clean bill of health yet for Burma’s anti-money laundering drive – The Irrawaddy

February 14th, 2014


RANGOON — Burma looks set to get a new law to counter money laundering soon, but the country still faces numerous challenges in curbing financial crimes.

On Thursday the Upper House passed the Anti-Money Laundering Bill, which will next go to the Union Parliament, where Burma’s Lower House and Upper House sit in joint session. Once the bill clears the Upper House it will go to President Thein Sein for sign-off.

The bill suggests punishments of up to 10 years in jail and a 500 million kyats fine (US$500,000) for money laundering convictions, and is the latest in a series of financial reforms that aim to make Burma a more reputable investment destination.

Thurein Aung, a senior investigator at Burma’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), part of the Ministry of Home Affairs, which led the anti-money laundering bill’s drafting, described the passing of the measure as significant.

“It is very important for Myanmar,” he told The Irrawaddy. “The old anti-laundering law [from 2002] contained a lot of loopholes and was not up to international standards.” (more…)

Random shooting or political violence? – The Edge Review

February 14th, 2014

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

Shots fired at leading Myanmar lawmakers in KL

Displaced Rakhine sheltering at Sittwe monastery, June 2102 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Displaced Rakhine sheltering at Sittwe monastery, June 2012 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

By SIMON ROUGHNEEN / Yangon and TERRY FRIEL / Kuala Lumpur

They were travelling back to their luxury hotel through the crowded streets of Kuala Lumpur on a humid night during the fireworks-fuelled two weeks of Chinese New Year celebrations.

The sound of small explosions was everywhere.

It was raining. Two men on a motorbike pulled up alongside them.

One pulled out a gun and fired several shots into the unmarked vehicle carrying prominent Myanmar Rakhine lawmakers Aye Maung and Aye Thar Aung.

“Our security in the back seat saw two people approach, and one picked up a gun,” recounted Aye Maung, speaking to The Edge Review after returning to Myanmar. (more…)

President’s Union Day message flags-up federalism – The Irrawaddy

February 12th, 2014


RANGOON — With nationwide ceasefire talks scheduled for next month, Burma President Thein Sein gave what seems a strong hint that a government long-known for its centralizing leanings will take into account ethnic minority calls for more powers to be devolved to their regions through a federal union.

Thein Sein’s message to mark Burma’s Union Day said that “the government is striving towards strengthening national reconsolidation in cooperation with the entire national people,” and was published alongside a prior statement that “All national races are to establish the national unity based on ‘the Panglong Spirit’ and then march toward a peaceful, modern, and democratic nation through a federal system.” (more…)

Photoshopped Thein Sein prompts media ethics discussion – The Irrawaddy

February 10th, 2014


RANGOON — A front-page mash-up of Burma President Thein Sein portrayed in traditional Burmese dancing garb and published in a local newspaper has drawn the ire of officials and some local media, who feel the image oversteps ethical boundaries.

“Let’s cultivate union spirit,” ran the headline on the image—an apparent attempt to satirize Burma’s state media and official speeches, which regularly feature similar invocations.

Zaw Htay, a President’s Office official who posts on Facebook and Twitter under the nom de plume Hmuu Zaw, took to social media to ask, “Is it press freedom?”, referring to the image. The post has since been deleted, and when contacted by The Irrawaddy on Monday, Zaw Htay said “I have no comment on this publication,” but added, “journalists in Myanmar must obey the existing law.” (more…)

In Burma, some ex-political prisoners heed capitalism’s calling – The Irrawaddy

February 8th, 2014


Zaw Ye Win at work at Engine Doctor Engineering (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Zaw Ye Win at work at Engine Doctor Engineering (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

RANGOON — Kyaw Htwe’s office is a well-lit and airy space on the sixth floor of a townhouse in Rangoon’s Sanchaung Township, where he employs four people in a small car rental business and recruitment agency.

“These two years, there has been low demand for car rental,” he lamented. “Tourists are not asking for car rentals much, but the recruitment agency is not so bad for me,” he said. “Interpreter, computer staff, some accountants, some admin.,” he said, listing off the type of vacancies he is tasked with helping to fill.

But running a business—even if the attendant stresses and disappointments are only tempered by occasional success—is a much better life, Kyaw Htwe said, than his old existence as a political prisoner.

Just 22 when he was first jailed in 1990, Kyaw Htwe spent five years inside Rangoon’s Insein Prison. “The whole prison life is in the cell, walking up and down, the cell measured 8 feet by 10 feet,” he said. (more…)

L’Alchimiste works its magic – The Irrawaddy

February 8th, 2014


Published in the Feb. 2014 print edition of The Irrawaddy

RANGOON — Before anyone else asks, Yangon’s tranquil lakeside French restaurant L’Alchimiste is not named after the Paulo Coelho novel “The Alchemist.” CEO François Kenedi says that it’s derived from the name of his other venture in Yangon, the well-known lunchtime downtown meeting point Zawgyi House.

“People were getting confused, despite the very different locations, as I called this place Zawgyi as well at first,” he says. “That’s why I opted for the translation.”

Since the popular Myanmar character Zawgyi was an alchemist of sorts, he explains, the new name serves to give the new restaurant a clear identity, while preserving the connection with Zawgyi House. (more…)

Second Arakan probe to focus on policeman’s killing – The Irrawaddy

February 7th, 2014


RANGOON — A new government commission set up to investigate recent violence in northern Arakan State will try to establish the “root cause” of the death of a policeman said to have been killed by a Rohingya mob on Jan. 13, but does not say if it will address allegations made by the United Nations that almost 50 Rohingyas were killed either side of the policeman’s disappearance.

While specifying probing the death of policeman Aung Kyaw Thein, the commission remit mentions only other “deaths and injuries and loss of property in the incidents,” with regard to alleged violence in Maungdaw Township in northern Arakan State during January.

The new inquiry features both Arakanese Buddhist and Muslim representatives and was announced in the state mouthpiece The New Light of Myanmar on Feb. 7, and will be headed by Dr Tha Hla Shwe of of the Myanmar Red Cross Society. It is expected to report its findings to President Thein Sein’s government by the end of February. (more…)

Thai politician turned protest leader follows own script in political drama – The Christian Science Monitor

February 7th, 2014


Election poster for Puea Thai, the main governing party, on a street in downtown Surat Thani (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Election poster for Puea Thai, the main governing party, on a street in downtown Surat Thani (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

PHUN PHIN, THAILAND - The politician’s house is hidden behind two giant billboards, one of Thailand’s revered monarch and the other of the crown prince. “Long Live the King. May it please Your Majesty the King, on behalf of Thaugsuban family,” read the signs.

In this corner of southern Thailand’s rubber-growing heartland, respect for the royal family is strong. But so too is respect – some might say fear – of the family of Suthep Thaugsuban, a veteran politician and dealmaker who is the face of antigovernment protests in Bangkok. He is a key player in a complex drama that, at its core, pits a conservative elite against an arriviste billionaire.

Last weekend’s parliamentary elections saw Mr. Suthep’s movement in full throttle: Protesters blocked polling stations in the capital in a bid to defeat Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s formidable political machine. In the south, an opposition stronghold, many districts had no candidates and hence no ballot.

The opposition Democrat Party, which boycotted the vote and backs the protesters, has asked Thailand’s constitutional court to annul the election. It’s unclear when special elections will be held for the uncontested seats, leaving the country in legislative limbo.

Protesters still occupy parts of Bangkok, though the crowds are thinning out. Ms. Yingluck’s caretaker administration is also fending off an uproar among rural supporters over unpaid rice subsidies. And Suthep continues to issued dire threats against the beleaguered premier. On Tuesday, he told a rally that the end was near. “Yingluck, it’s time for you to step down, your bad karma is catching up with you,” he said. (more…)

Southern animus – The Edge Review

February 7th, 2014

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

Anti-government protestor rally site in Phuket town (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Anti-government protestor rally site in Phuket town (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

PHUKET – About two dozen red, white and blue clad-protestors sat under a marquee outside City Hall in Phuket Town, watching TV coverage from Bangkok of the three month-old anti-government demonstrations that have stymied the administration headed by Yingluck Shinawatra’s Peua Thai party.

Charin Changin, Deputy Head of the Anuban School three hundred yards down the road from the almost—deserted rally, said that despite the small numbers, “most of the south supports the Democrat Party, so most people also support the protest.”

The Democrat Party is Thailand’s second-biggest party and draws much of its support from Thailand’s south, home to nine million people. But it boycotted the just-held Feb. 2 election after its members resigned as MP’s and lined-up behind the protestors led by Suthep Thaugsuban, himself a Deputy Prime Minister in Thailand’s last Democrat Party-led government, which was soundly beaten by Yingluck’s Peua Thai in 2011 elections.

Southern animus toward the government is partly down to the fact that Yingluck is seen as a puppet of her elder brother Thaksin, a former Prime Minister who was ousted in a 2006 coup and lives in self-imposed exile since fleeing graft charges in 2008. “Everything he control in Thailand, the police, everything, and his sister, “  Ansari Mansuri, Imam at the Yameay Mosque in Phuket, told The Edge Review. (more…)

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