Opinion


It is easy to be upbeat about what has happened in Myanmar in recent years. The energy on the streets is intoxicating, as tens of millions of people go about the daily business of transforming their lives.

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A Rakhine MP created controversy when he submitted a proposal in the Amyotha Hluttaw last week that offended the Tatmadaw.

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I belong to an ethnic group that, according to my government, does not exist. In the past few weeks, ultra-nationalist protestors have proudly proclaimed, “There are no Rohingya in our country.” And then the NLD government requested foreign embassies to refrain from using the term “Rohingya”, reportedly stating that “the controversial term does not support the national reconciliation process and solving problems”. Their statement was disappointing because it was a capitulation to the hardliners and because I, as a Rohingya, want nothing more than national reconciliation. I want to live in a Myanmar where all of Myanmar’s peoples can live together in equality and peace.

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Last week the Obama administration extended economic sanctions against Burma for another year saying the step is necessary despite the progress on democratic reforms.

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As Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) engaged in a historic transfer of power in the Myanmar capital of Naypyidaw in March, my Burmese colleagues and I stood on a deserted beach 170 miles to the southwest, near Gwa on the Rakhine coast. We were speaking to local fishermen about their livelihoods and hearing about the unfortunate death of a young dugong – southeast Asia’s cousin of the manatee.

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If the new government is to succeed in addressing runaway electricity demand, it needs to draw lessons from the failures of the last administration.

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One of the many buzzwords hovering around Burma’s transition to democracy is “access to information.” Indeed, the call for crafting legislation on the right to information could not have come at a better time.

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When the Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing declared quite recently that he was toeing the line of Aung San Suu Kyi’s 21st Century Panglong initiative, it looks like that the military, also known as Burma Army or Tatmadaw, is ready to take order from the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led regime and would help facilitate its national reconciliation and all-inclusiveness policy.

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Once again the use of the self-designation “Rohingya” is getting hot-headed attention. In one camp are those who want to eliminate any reference to this ethnic claim. For them, the Rohingya are simply “Bengali”.

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Burma’s Commander-in-Chief, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, is turning 60, but he is showing no signs of slowing down, nor is he planning to retire, as some have speculated. Instead, at press conference on May 13 in Naypyidaw, he pledged to continue to lead the armed forces and work with Aung San Suu Kyi to achieve peace and reconciliation in the country.

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Aung San Suu Kyi’s contributions to Myanmar’s democracy are undeniable. She endured 15 years of house arrest under the country’s military junta. She has helped release political prisoners. And she has brought international attention to a nation that desperately needed it.

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A New York Times editorial this week slammed what it called “Aung San Suu Kyi’s Cowardly Stance on the Rohingya,” in reaction to a request earlier this month from Suu Kyi’s Foreign Ministry to the US Embassy to avoid using the term “Rohingya.” The appeal came after an embassy statement last month offering condolences over the drowning of more than 20 displaced Muslims in Arakan State provoked a demonstration outside the embassy building for using the contentious term.
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On May 20, the national emergency that underpins the remaining US sanctions on Myanmar will expire unless renewed by President Barack Obama.
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Lee Jones, a senior lecturer at Queen Mary University of London, has just published Societies Under Siege: Exploring How International Economic Sanctions (Do Not) Work. In it, he evaluates the use and success of sanctions in three key cases – South Africa, Iraq and Myanmar – and finds that sanctions rarely achieve their stated aims. We spoke to Jones via Skype.
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The National League for Democracy government faces a host of daunting challenges and one of the most critical is its election promise to establish a federal state.
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Wherever you looked around the country, there were issues that demanded attention including tough topics like human trafficking, drug production, HIV, civil war, child soldiering, economic malaise, forced conscription and crony capitalism.
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I must start with a correction. My column last week spoke about the abusive system of apartheid in Rakhine State that means Muslim people are kept in camps and forced to make dangerous, sometimes fatal, journeys to access basic supplies because they are not allowed to travel freely.
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The Burmese government under State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi has kicked off a new phase of the peace process with the country’s ethnic minorities. On 27 April, Suu Kyi held a meeting with the Joint Monitoring Committee, a body representing the army and eight non-state armed groups that signed the so-called Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) last October.
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Dear President U Htin Kyaw,

We congratulate you on becoming Myanmar’s first civilian president appointed by a democratically elected parliament since 1962. We respect the sacrifices that you, National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and millions of people in Myanmar have made in ending repressive military rule in the country.
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When I first lived in Thailand, almost two decades ago, the prevailing attitude toward Myanmar was predictably dismissive. Myanmar was considered backward, destitute and despotic.
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