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Southeast Asia passing the buck on refugees – Nikkei Asian Review

Rohingya child at Thay Chaung fish market inside a Rohingya ghetto near Sittwe. The nearby docks are a departure point for Rohingya refugees going by boat to Thailand and Malaysia (Photo; Simon Roughneen)

BANGKOK – In recent years, attacks on the Muslim Rohingya by the Buddhist Rakhine have forced almost 150,000 Rohingya into camps after their villages were destroyed. Since then, an estimated 120,000 have run a gauntlet of stormy seas as well as abuse and extortion by traffickers in order to escape to Malaysia. “People do not have any freedom here,” said Myo Win, a Rohingya speaking to the NAR by telephone from Sittwe, the Rakhine regional state capital. “That is why they try to go to Malaysia,” he added.

The depths of desperation – The Edge Review

Rohingya refugees carting rice rations inside camp near Sittwe, April 2014 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

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.

Jockeying for position – The Edge Review

Burma President Thein Sein pictured at ASEM summit in Vientiane in 2012  (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

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].”

Myanmar presidential race heats up – Nikkei Asian Review

Candidates: Aung San Suu Kyi and Shwe Mann at the WEF in Naypyidaw, June 2013. (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

YANGON — In an upbeat tour of China and the U.S. in recent days, Myanmar Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann made every effort to look and sound presidential. Ditching his usual longyi, or sarong, for a sharp Western suit, Shwe Mann told a gathering at a U.S. think tank that “if the USDP nominates me as presidential candidate, I am happy to accept.” Shwe Mann, who also chairs the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, first spoke of his presidential ambitions almost two years ago. Now, six months before national elections, the former No. 3 in Myanmar’s previous military junta is among a handful of contenders jostling for position as the race for the presidency kicks into gear.

A taste for eel – The Edge Review

The beach at Pelabuhan Ratu (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

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.

Missionary: executed Brazilian had serious mental illness – National Catholic Register

Joko Widodo and wife Iriana after voting in central Jakarta on April 9 2014 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – As pastoral work goes, there must be few tasks as grueling, or as raw, as seeing a condemned man through his final hours before execution. But when Father Charles Burrows, an Irish missionary in Indonesia, chatted and prayed with 42-year-old Brazilian Roderigo Gularte late into April 28, no matter what he counseled, the condemned man — a schizophrenic with bipolar disorder — seemingly understood nothing of what was about to happen. “I was joking with him, saying that ‘I am 72; I will be up there with you soon enough,’” recalled the Dublin-born Burrows, who was speaking by telephone from Cilacap on the southern coast of Java. “Only when they bound him in chains did he ask, ‘Father, am I being executed?’” said the priest, who explained that Gularte heard voices telling him he would be okay.

Indonesia mulls expanding alcohol restrictions – Nikkei Asian Review

Booze-free. Inside a Jakarta convenience store (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – With restrictions on small retailers now in place, a wider ban is now being pushed by two of the four Islamic parties represented in Indonesia’s parliament, the United Development Party (known by its Indonesian initials as the PPP) and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS). The proposed law seeks to ban the production, distribution, sale and consumption of beverages containing more than 1% alcohol. Offenders found distributing or producing alcohol could face between two and 10 years in prison, or a fine of up to 1 billion rupiah ($77,205). Anyone caught drinking alcohol could face a prison term of between three months and two years.

A long way to go – The Edge Review

Train station in Jakarta. Indonesia's government is keen to upgrade the country's transport infrastructure (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

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.

Eating wild – The Edge Review

Bendita Ramos surveys her damaged corn crop (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

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.

In Indonesia, missteps mar president’s first months in office – Los Angeles Times/RTÉ World Report

Joko Widodo and wife Iriana after voting in central Jakarta on April 9 2014 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – Since taking office in October, Joko Widodo’s promises of reform have faltered in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy. Widodo’s supporters say he has had to balance the demands of powerful politicians who backed his candidacy, particularly former President Megawati Sukarnoputri and wealthy businessman Surya Paloh, one of whose allies Widodo appointed as attorney general. Abdee Negara, a popular Indonesian guitarist who campaigned for Widodo, said, “He has a baby-step approach to getting things done. There is a lot of politics between the president and his parties.” Still, Negara said, “I was glad I was part of the wind of change.”