Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

Displaced by fighting between the government and an ethnic armed group, about 1,600 villagers in southern Shan State are in urgent need of assistance, according to the Shan State Peace Task Force, a peace advocacy group that recently visited the affected population.

Over a hundred and twenty homeless people currently staying at a makeshift camp in Pyinoolwin are in urgent need of medicine and clothes, a volunteer, Saung Thazin, told Mizzima.

The Karen National Union (KNU) commemorated its 67th Karen Resistance Day at Law KeeLah, Karen State, on 31 January.

Over 250 residents protested in northern Shan State’s Namkham Township on Wednesday demanding the release of twelve civilians who were allegedly arrested by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), according to a local source.

On Monday morning, Myanmar convened its first democratically-elected Parliament in more than half a century, a historic moment unthinkable just five years ago in a country locked under decades of military rule.

Taking his seat in Myanmar’s parliament for the first time, Myo Zaw Aung, a one-time bodyguard for Aung San Suu Kyi, acknowledged the dozens of new lawmakers from her National League for Democracy (NLD) had a daunting task ahead.

A local media report on Sunday suggested that Aung San Suu Kyi, chairwoman of the National League for Democracy (NLD), is negotiating with the military to make a move for the presidency.

Burma was brimming with anticipation as its legislative hue changed suddenly from green to red on Monday. After decades of effort, the National League for Democracy (NLD) assumed a majority of the Union Parliament, leaving hopes at an all-time high for swift and genuine democratic reform in a country that has long been ruled by its military.

Burma, once ruled by one of the most repressive regimes in the world, has entered into a new era as the parliament led by the National League for Democracy (NLD) convened on February 1, 2016 for the first time.

The NLD, led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, won a landslide election last November 2015 defeating the then ruling and military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

But despite this recent development, old issues have remained. Among them, the continuing restrictions on free expression and press freedom.

Limited Access

Covering the sessions of the previous parliament was not that easy, journalists said.

“In the beginning, you couldn’t ask questions to the lawmakers,” said Aung Htet, a senior reporter of the Voice Weekly, a local publication.

“We had five minutes to enter the assembly hall. Interviews and photographs are allowed [only] during these five minutes,” added Aung Htet who has been covering the parliament since 2011.

Journalists were not permitted to enter the Parliament chambers in April 2015 after photos of sleeping lawmakers were published online. The following month, journalists negotiated with Burmese officials to restore their access.

Since then, reporters in the capital Naypyidaw have to make do watching the proceedings from a television in the parliament’s corridor.

“We informed the NLD about it, but (there is) no reply yet,” Aung Htet said.

Other pictures, which showed members of the parliament (MP) using their tablets while at work and an army representative leaning over the desk of an absent MP to press a voting button, were also published.

Kyaw Soe, director general of the Union Parliament who handles administrative duties, cited the public release of these photos as the main reason for the rules on the conduct of the media during sessions.

The restrictions did not only apply to journalists, but also to MPs.

“USDP lawmakers had to pass censors before discussion in parliament all the time,” said Thura U Aung Ko, who was ousted from his role as a central committee member of President Thein Sein’s USDP.

“We can only discuss issues in accordance with the party policy,” Thura U Aung Ko said on his last day as an MP on 29 January 2016.

In Transition

In the 2010 general elections, the USDP led by the ex-generals of the former junta dominated while NLD boycotted the polls.

The quasi-civilian government of President Thein Sein, a former general, restored some civil liberties including the relaxation of media restrictions. In August 2012, the authorities ended the (pre-publication) censorship regime of the local publications. This media-related development has become the linchpin of Burma’s reform process, even as concerns about self-censorship and other attacks against the media continued.

Media freedom advocate groups in the country said the policy has not gone far enough to introduce a “normal” media environment under the quasi-civilian government. Radio and television licenses have yet to be liberalized; and access to information and government officials remains almost impossible.

These issues indicate that free expression and press freedom remain at a fragile stage.

NLD, on its way to becoming the main opposition party, won 43 out of the 44 parliament seats vacated by Thein Sein cabinet members during the by-elections in April 2012.

Its victory last November 2015 gave journalists hope for an improved media and press freedom landscape.

“I believe the NLD knows the role of media in the democratic transition, and will respect the right to information,” said Aung Thura, a member of the Myanmar Journalist Network.

“Daw Suu has invited us to give advice related to the media situation here,” he said.

Meanwhile, Suu Kyi is under criticism for blocking the party’s spokesperson from talking to the media about the party policy shortly after its election victory.

Her order raised concerns whether NLD lawmakers can discuss in the parliament freely or not.

“She just restricts us before the power transfer,” said Win Htein of the NLD. “Don’t worry for freedom of expression in parliament as well as in the country. We respect and value the press freedom.”

Link: http://www.irrawaddy.com/burma/censorship-remains-a-big-challenge-for-incoming-parliament.html

Expectations were running sky high as Myanmar’s first democratically elected parliament in more than 50 years, dominated by the former opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), convened for the first time on Monday tasked with choosing the country’s next president.

The two outgoing vice-presidents were absent today, 1 February,for the first day of the first session of the second parliament.

A Thai cement factory in Mon State is allegedly building a coal-burning power plant on-site without informing locals or authorities, according to rights activists concerned about the project’s potential environmental effects.

While globally an initial public offering usually means throwing the doors to your company wide open and letting investors poke around, industry observers say the Yangon bourse has not gone far enough on provisions for transparency.

Energy officials have pledged to push down the price of petrol at the pump still further, as it emerged that some filling station owners are profiting from globally plummeting oil prices by keeping their prices up – or even raising them.

Only 2000 out of 23,000 registered factories have signed contracts with their employees, months after the Ministry of Labour instructed companies to draft legally binding documents.

Yangon City Development Committee has warned that it will take legal action against contractors and engineers who fail to abide by the law and revoke their licences.

After nine months without medical care, the posting of a single doctor to a “leprosy village” in Yangon is only a small consolation for its nearly 200 residents.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) has launched a nationwide “sharing project” aimed at providing classroom supplies to Burma’s underprivileged schoolchildren, according to a statement released on Monday and signed by senior party member Nyan Win.

Thai authorities have rescued nearly 30 Myanmar victims from alleged human traffickers’ hands in Phuket province.

Myanmar migrants were among the 39 people who drowned in the Mediterranean on January 30, according to Turkish state media.