Category Archives: Myanmar (Burma)

Burma, officially the Republic of the Union of Myanmar , is a country in South Asia and Southeast Asia. Burma is bordered by India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand. One-third of Burma’s total perimeter of 1,930 kilometres (1,200 mi) forms an uninterrupted coastline along the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea

Burma Today

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Darlene Casella
November 22, 2011

Evolved from the colonial poems of Kipling to the specter of nuclear weapons, world leaders are taking a renewed look at provocative Burma.

Rudyard Kipling wrote The Road to Mandalay; a poem about the sometime capital of the British Colony, Burma.

“Come you back to Mandalay, Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can’t you ‘ear their paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay on the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’ fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!”

Kipling’s poem became a song for Paramount’s first “Road “picture, with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. The Road to Mandalay was renamed The Road to Singapore. Frank Sinatra made the song a hit in his Come Fly With Me album.

Songs and laughter are not the reality of Burma today. Myanmar was renamed after the brutal uprising in 1998. Yangon, formerly Rangoon, means “End of Strife.” This name is an antonym to Burmese life. Pervasive government control, electricity and food shortages, corruption and rural poverty abound. State assets have been “privatized” to military families and government cronies. In spite of abundant natural resources, Burma remains one of the world’s poorest countries.

Human trafficking of women and children for commercial sexual exploitation; conscription of child soldiers, and forced labor camps are found. Extreme human rights violations cause the United States, the European Union, and Canada to impose financial and economic sanctions.

Myanmar sits at the crossroads of Asia’s great civilizations between India, Bangladesh, Laos, China, and Thailand. Strategically located on the vast Indian Ocean; she stretches to the Eastern Himalayan Mountains, but is smaller than Texas.

Ancient cities, spectacular monuments, well preserved pagodas, stupas, and temples make Myanmar a rich archaeological find. People communicate in their own languages, wear their own style of clothing, celebrate festivals, and perform rituals that have existed since time immemorial. Buddhism is influential. Most boys, and many girls, take part in novitiation which is a temporary monastic life; which includes a shaved head, wearing a robe, and staying in a monastery (a nunnery for girls). Monks in yellowish robes hold alms bowls, heads bowed, humbly asking for whatever food is offered.

The George Soros Foundation created The Burma Project in 1994 to increase international awareness of conditions in Burma and help the country to make transition from a closed to an open society.

Aung San Suu Kyi is a Burmese national hero, a Noble Laureate, and head of the pro democracy movement. She was under house arrest for most of the last 20 years; during this time her husband died in England. At the age of 65, she was released in November 2010 and saw her son for the first time in ten years. Bono wrote the song “Walk On” for Kyi. She has millions of supporters worldwide.

Former First Lady Laura Bush, an advocate of Suu Kyi, worked with 16 women senators to draft a letter to the UN to secure Kyi’s release. Mrs. Bush wrote an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, was interviewed in Time Magazine, and personally called General Secretary Ban Ki Moon asking him to pressure the Burmese regime to release Suu Kyi. In 2010 Laura Bush made a U Tube video about Suu Kyi. Happily Laura Bush spoke by phone with the recently freed pro democracy activist. Encouraged by recent developments, Aung San Suu Kyi announced a return to politics. She had meetings with President Thein Sein.

Burma remains a close ally of China. China and Myanmar have multibillion dollar joint venture pipelines to transport oil and gas. It will link refineries in Western China across Myanmar. Offshore natural gas will go to China. Under civilian control since March 2011, Myanmar has embarked on a series of reforms; released 220 political prisoners, relaxed media control, and legalized trade unions. Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has named Burma as the Chair starting in 2014. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has accepted an invitation to visit the country as soon as possible.

Troubling aspects of Sein’s new government include their nuclear ambition, and their military relationship with North Korea. Norway based “Voice of Burma” broadcast this in a one hour documentary film on Aljazeera television in the Middle East. A young Burmese military specialist on rocket engines shows that Burma has components for a nuclear weapons program, including technology for uranium enrichment and long range missiles.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are climbing on the Burma bandwagon. Mr. Obama called Aung San Suu Kyi during his visit to Australia last week. Hillary Clinton is scheduled to visit next month.

Let us pray that the Obama Administration does better with nuclear weapons in Burma than it has done with nuclear weapons in North Korea and Iran.

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West wary of Burma investment

Western companies are still thinking twice about investing in Burma despite recent political reforms, leaving the way clear to Indian, Thai and Malaysian companies to invest in the South East Asian nation.

Andrew Hobbs 24 November 2011 09:02 GMT

Burma, also known as Myanmar, closed its biggest oil and gas exploration tender in years in August, a few months after it cautiously started political reforms, and the government is now processing the bids, Reuters reported.

Industry sources in Burma told Reuters the tender had attracted about 50 bids, with regional companies said to be the main contenders.

So far only Thailand’s PTT Exploration and India’s ONGC Videsh have publicly expressed interest in this tender, with ONGC saying it is evaluating data, Reuters reported.

US companies are barred from new investments in Myanmar under government-ordered sanctions and Chinese oil companies were lukewarm to the bidding for 18 onshore oil and gas prospects, due to concerns over the blocks’ prospects, Reuters reported.

Coupled with this, bilateral ties between Burma and China have been strained since September, after Rangoon shelved a China-backed dam in the north of the country.

CNOOC said it had not put in a bid, while no comment was received from Sinopec or China National Petroleum Corporation, Reuters reported.

Facts Global Energy consultant HS Yen said Burma could have received only one expression of interest from Europe.

“They probably have attracted as much as 50 bids, but each field may have been counted as a separate bid, so the number of individual companies bidding are very likely much lower than 50,” Yen said.

“I certainly don’t see a major company that isn’t already present in the country venturing into Myanmar given the risks of doing business there and the small reserves size.”

Total, which leads the $1 billion Yadana gas project in Burmese waters in the Andaman Sea, had not taken part in the tender, a company spokeswoman said.

Total chief executive Christophe de Margerie last month said his company would like to play a bigger role in Burma but first wanted to see concrete signs of increased democratisation.

“We decided that … it was important to be in Myanmar but that we will not invest until things are getting better … I do hope that will happen,” he said.

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ASEAN gambles on Myanmar’s regional leadership

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By Ben Blanchard
NUSA DUA, Indonesia

(Reuters) – Southeast Asian nations endorsed Myanmar Thursday for the chairmanship of a key regional grouping, gambling that the isolated country can stick to reforms begun this year that could lead it out of half a century of isolation.

But U.S. President Barack Obama cautioned that Myanmar, also known as Burma, must still demonstrate improvements in human rights in his first remarks since the authoritarian regime freed hundreds of political prisoners in October and vowed more reforms in the weeks ahead.

“Some political prisoners have been released. The government has begun a dialogue. Still, violations of human rights persist,” Obama said in a speech to the Australian parliament

ahead of joining Asian leaders in Bali for an East Asia Summit.

“So we will continue to speak clearly about the steps that must be taken for the government of Burma to have a better relationship with the United States.”

The United States has said that freeing political prisoners is one of several preconditions to lifting sanctions that have isolated Myanmar and driven it closer to China. Other conditions include peace with restive ethnic groups after years of unrest.

But Southeast Asia has moved quickly to embrace change in the resource-rich former British colony, whose strategic location between rising powers India and China, and vast, untapped natural-gas resources, have drawn investor interest.

The 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) — of which Myanmar is a member — formally gave Myanmar the chairmanship of the Southeast Asian regional bloc in 2014, two years ahead of schedule, said Myanmar government officials at an ASEAN summit on the Indonesian resort island of Bali.

“Be assured that we are now growing into a democratic society and we will do all our responsibilities and duties as a responsible government, reflecting the desires of the Myanmar people,” Ko Ko Hlaing, chief political adviser to the Myanmar president, told reporters.

“We will do what we have to do as a democratic government and a democratic society,” he said. “As a family, ASEAN nations have welcomed Myanmar to be a responsible chairman.”

U Sit Aye, a senior Myanmar presidential legal advisor, said more reforms were in store.

“It is . a continuing process,” he said, adding that ASEAN leaders had formally backed Myanmar’s chairmanship at a closed-door meeting in Bali.

Countries across Southeast Asia welcomed the chairmanship as a critical milestone after years frustration over Myanmar’s isolation as the region approaches a European Union-style Asian community in 2015.

“We believe that with the positive improvements in Myanmar right now, this has shown that Myanmar would like to come back to the democratic way,” Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Towijakchaiku told reporters on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Bali.

“MOMENTUM FOR REFORMS”

Recent overtures by Myanmar’s government have included calls for peace with ethnic minority groups, some tolerance of criticism, the suspension of an unpopular Chinese-funded dam project and the legalization of labor unions.

President Thein Sein has also reached out to democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was freed last year from 15 years of house arrest. Her National League for Democracy (NLD) is expected to decide on Friday whether to re-register as a political party to contest imminent by-elections.

An official in Suu Kyi’s party said Myanmar’s expected ASEAN chairmanship would help to drive more political change.

“Their decision is tantamount to encouraging the present Myanmar government to step up the momentum for reforms,” Nyan Win, a senior NLD official, told Reuters. “Myanmar’s political activities will become more vibrant after assuming the chair.”

Indeed, Indonesia’s foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, said the chairmanship would likely open Myanmar further. “I am quite convinced this will have a huge multiplier effect.”

“REAL CHANGES”

The United States has had strained relations with Myanmar since the former military junta, which took power in a 1962 coup, killed thousands in a crackdown in 1988. The junta was replaced by a military-dominated civilian government in March after the first elections in two decades last year.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last Friday that Myanmar appeared to be making some “real changes” to its political system but needs to pursue more reform.

Myanmar’s government has responded by urging the United States to lift sanctions, describing its reforms as genuine.

The country, as big as France and Britain combined, is developing ports on the Indian Ocean and Andaman Sea that, if combined with proposed rail and pipeline projects, would allow cargo ships to bypass the Straits of Malacca.

That would open the way for faster delivery of oil from the Middle East and Africa to China and other countries in the region straddling the Mekong River.

India, Japan and Southeast Asia have sought to ramp up engagement, largely to counterbalance China’s influence and to gain a toehold in a country whose proven gas reserves have tripled in the past decade to around 800 billion cubic meters, equivalent to more than a quarter of Australia’s, BP Statistical Review figures show.

(Additional reporting by Michael Perry, James Grubel and Caren Bohan in Canberra and Aung Hla Tun in Yangon; writing by Jason Szep; editing by Neil Fullick.)

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