Opinion


Just before former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled from Tunis in January 2011, he addressed his citizens one last time in a seven-minute speech in which he promised “rejection of all forms of censorship”. Sure enough, within just a few hours, the internet – which had long been heavily censored – was open and for the first time Tunisians were able to access whatever they wanted to freely.
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Long simmering ethnic tensions in Burma exploded in January. In the village of Du Char Yar Tan in Rakhine state, at least 48 people were killed in two separate incidents when Buddhist mobs went on a rampage against Rohingya Muslims. A police sergeant was reported to have been captured and killed by the Muslim villagers.
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Political scientist Jay Ulfelder recently posted an interesting analysis of one of my recent articles on Foreign Policy. I generally make a point not to respond to criticism of my work unless there’s a chance for meaningful dialogue. This is definitely one of those chances.
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A ban on all raw timber exports from Burma came into effect on Tuesday, in an attempt to rein in one of the country’s highly lucrative and notoriously corrupt extractives. The new regulation, which criminalises cross-border trade of unrefined wood products, is meant to stop the flow of raw resources and encourage development of value-added processing industries, though many are sceptical of the government’s ability to accomplish that outcome.
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One of them has helped reforest environmentally threatened regions and donated money to assist children with Down syndrome. A portion of every ticket his airline sells goes to social welfare organizations. And when Cyclone Nargis devastated Myanmar in 2008, his foundation contributed more than $8 million to rebuild schools, hospitals, and monasteries.
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Myanmar’s peace process is gaining new momentum with the recent formation of a joint technical team comprising nine members from each side: for the ethnic groups, from the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), and for the government, the Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC).
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IT seemed like a good idea at the time. Among the many things Myanmar lacks after half a century of military dictatorship are data, of any sort. For a new government managing the transition to democracy, basic facts about the country are essential. Hence, a census. There has not been one in Myanmar since 1983, and it is a normal step in the economic development of any poverty-stricken country.
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Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.
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(Unofficial Translation)

Since Feb 22, multi-day demonstrations and protests against the organization “Doctors Without Borders” have broken out in Rakhine state, calling for the government to expel the organization.  According to reports in the official newspaper “New Light of Myanmar”, the Ministry of Health has suspended the medical projects by the organization in Rakhine state, while allowing projects in other provinces and states to continue. The international humanitarian aid organization, a Nobel Peace laureate, has encountered a major embarrassment.

The origins of this development began with a so-called “massacre” in January. According to a report in Myanmar Freedom newspaper, the UN reported two violent incidents in Rakhine state in the middle January, saying that about 40 Rohingya Muslims had been killed by police and Rakhine Buddhists. “Doctors Without Borders” operating in the Rakhine state also claimed that its clinics had treated about 20 injured Rohingya people. Associated Press spread the news to the world, followed by a joint statement from the eager U.S. and UK embassies condemning the violence against Rohingyas in Myanmar and calling for a thorough investigation by the Myanmar government. The story was carried widely in the main western media outlets. On Jan 28, upon the completion of a field investigation by a special investigation committee, Myanmar hosted a press conference to publish the results. It pointed out that the violent event originated from a quarrel between a Burmese policeman and 20 Rohingya and the policeman was the only one killed. Therefore, the reports and accusations by western media and organizations about the “massacre of Rohingya” were made up and false.  Furthermore, “Doctors Without Borders” could not provide any evidence of the treatment provided to the injured Rohingya. The embassies of the US and UK, as well as the western media,  seem to have made a big mistake on this issue.

Subsequently, major protests broke in Rakhine state. Mizzima reported a 5000-people demonstration in Sittwe by Rakhine citizens and monks, calling for the government to expel international NGOs and criticizing their bias on the Rohingya issue and unfair distribution of aid in favor of Muslims. Since Feb 22, locals in Sittwe started a series of sit-in demonstrations demanding that “Doctors Without Borders” should leave Sittwe. The President’s spokesperson told the media that the organization’s MOU with the Myanmar government had expired in January 2013; its work is biased and lacks transparency and the organization has hired Rohingya against regulations. To avoid tension in Rakhine state, the government had to end cooperation with the organization, although it w ill allows it to continue  operating in other areas.

The “conflict” between Myanmar people and the international NGO because of these false stories has come to a temporary halt. However, the underlying issues deserve reflection.  Looking at the whole event, western media was particularly exercized about the so-called “massacre” in Rakhine state and the Myanmar government’s order for “Doctors Without Borders” to leave the area. They were also selectively blind about the facts published by the Myanmar government, demonstrating their pride and prejudice.
Local media analysis has found that certain western powers and mainstream media have exhibited  stereotypical thinking and have sided selectively with one party against the other based on pre-existing biases when the event happened. Their reports and statements of concern were released without verification of the authenticity of the information. This is virtually a double standard. The so-called media freedom praised by the West might be free but definitely not fair.

Link: Link: http://epaper.gmw.cn/gmrb/html/2014-03/05/nw.D110000gmrb_20140305_6-16.html

Over the past three years, President Thein Sein has met opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi five times in Nay Pyi Taw, most recently on Sunday. As with the previous meetings, the details of what the leaders discussed on the weekend were kept secret. So the media and the public were deprived of some very important information.
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“As in the past, so in the future, the people of India will stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Burma, and whether we have to share good fortune or ill fortune, we shall share it together.” These were Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s words in 1948, on the day of Burma’s independence from Britain. Since then relations between the two countries have fluctuated between friendship, neglect and outright hostility, yet India’s rise on the international stage and Myanmar’s “democratic transition” are forcing both governments to reassess the nature of bilateral relations based on regional geopolitical developments. (more…)

“They eat up the hills like they’re devouring cakes. Hills three or four hundred feet high are completely flattened, or even turned into holes 300 feet deep. Where there used to be mountains, now there are lakes,” said U Cho, a resident of Hpakant, a town in Kachin State famed for its jade mines.
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The euphoria of the reforms in Burma has burned off like mist. The new freedoms gained, the political prisoners back with their families, the newly launched newspapers pouring off the presses, hogtied by none of the old machinery of censorship – all this is true, and most welcome. But the astuteness of President Thein Sein was to target precisely those repressions and abuses most obvious and most obnoxious to the outside world. What remained largely untouched were the power relations that made life a grinding struggle for millions of ordinary Burmese. (more…)

Citizenship as a concept that encompasses rights, responsibilities and political participation is not well understood in Myanmar, if a recent study is any indication. This is also reflected in the paucity of public debate: Citizenship is rarely mentioned in the press, while it has only very occasionally appeared in President U Thein Sein’s speeches. Many still think of it in terms of national identification cards. More recently the media has discussed citizenship in the context of the 1982 citizenship law and the Rohingya issue. However, broader issues pertaining to the rights and responsibilities that come with citizenship will almost certainly increase in importance as the 2015 general election approaches.
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Given how rapidly things have changed in Burma, the country also known as Myanmar, it’s tempting to see further reforms as inevitable. They’re not.
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The Rohingya people in Burma have been suffering from untold misery, displacement and violent death since 2012 when hundreds were killed and more than 140,000 forced to flee their homes. The government of Burma not only refuses to take action against the repression and killing of the Rohingya people, but angrily denies responsibility, when it is abundantly clear that government forces and police are committing much of the violence and either condoning or supporting Burmese Buddhist civilians who are committing these crimes against the Rohingya people. (more…)

The December 27 Myanmar State Gazette announced that 58 military officers with the rank of major and 3 with the rank of captain have been appointed to the Union Election Commission (UEC). According to the announcement, these active military officials were transferred from the Office of the Commander-in-Chief (Army) to the UEC to fill its organizational structure. The majors are to serve as assistant directors and the captains as administrative officers in the various commission offices, possibly in districts and townships. These appointments have been in effect since December 2, but the official announcement was not made until more than three weeks later.
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A local man from central Myanmar explained tensions between Buddhists and Muslims. “Myanmar is a Buddhist country,” he declared. “We are under siege from Muslims who came from Bengal to take our land and rape our children.” He insisted, “We Buddhists are a peaceful and tolerant people, but Islam is a religion of the sword.”
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Myanmar is emerging decisively from conflict, fragility, and isolation toward a prosperous and peaceful future. It is in the midst of a triple transition: from a military government to democracy, from conflict in border areas to peace, and from a state-centered to a market-oriented economy.
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There was good news last week in Myanmar when President Thein Sein stated his support for changing the nation’s Constitution to allow “any citizen,” including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Prize-winning democracy advocate, to run for the presidency in the 2015 elections.
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