Category Archives: Articles

UN charts new territory with project to track all Myanmar’s forests

This file photo taken on July 23, 2015 shows a worker looking on amid a pile of logs at a holding area along the Yangon river in Yangon. (AFP)

A new five-year project in Myanmar will for the first time document all forests in the Southeast Asian nation – including places affected by ethnic tensions – to pinpoint deforestation risks and boost conservation, the United Nations said.

The joint Myanmar-Finland project, launched this week with funding of 8 million euros ($9 million), will monitor all types of forests in an exercise aimed at helping the country reduce emissions that fuel climate change and adapt to warming impacts.

It will also serve as a basis to develop global guidelines for tracking and protecting forests in conflict zones.

“For a lot of people, Myanmar is a country with still a lot of unknowns,” said Julian Fox, team leader for national forest monitoring at the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, which is managing the project.

“There are huge areas of forests that have never been measured,” Fox told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Thursday.

About 70% of Myanmar’s population living in rural areas rely on its estimated 29 million hectares (72 million acres) of forests to provide for their basic needs and services.

But Myanmar also has the third-highest deforestation rate in the world – after Brazil and Indonesia – according to the FAO, partly driven by agricultural expansion and logging activities.

Although the authorities in colonial times made efforts to map parts of the country and its forests, Fox said there had never been a complete national forest inventory.

“For accurate information on forests, you need to know many things underneath the canopy – the tree species, soil, even the social-political context,” he said by phone.

The project will measure trees – with the potential to discover new species – and monitor biodiversity and carbon-storage levels, he added.

Starting in non-conflict forest zones, before expanding into less-secure areas such as the borders with China, Bangladesh and Thailand, the project will use modern tools like laser tree-measuring equipment and collect physical samples, Fox said.

It will cover Rakhine, a state from which more than 730,000 Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh after a military crackdown in 2017 that the United Nations has said was executed with genocidal intent. Myanmar denies that charge.

By engaging in sensitive talks with different ethnic groups and organisations on the ground, the FAO hopes to be able to monitor forest areas in higher-risk conflict zones.

Myanmar has more than 100 different ethnic groups, each with its own history, culture and language or dialect.

If methods developed and used here prove successful, they could be applied in other forested and remote conflict-affected areas worldwide seen as off limits up to now, Fox said.

“It is important that conflict sensitivity and human rights remain in the core of the forest monitoring work in order to ensure that it benefits all people, including ethnic minorities,” Finland’s ambassador to Myanmar, Riikka Laatu, said in a statement.

All results and data on Myanmar’s forests will be made publicly available, allowing both the government and different ethnic groups to better manage and protect forests, Fox said.

Nyi Nyi Kyaw, director-general of the forest department in Myanmar’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, said the government was “in urgent need of better and updated data about the state of all the forests in Myanmar”.

By: THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION
Credit: www.bangkokpost.com

Myanmar: End World’s Longest Internet Shutdown

Lift Restrictions in Embattled Rakhine, Chin States

A telecommunications tower in Mrauk U township, Rakhine State, where the Myanmar government has imposed an internet blackout.  © 2018 Phyo Hein Kyaw/AFP/Getty Images

(Bangkok) – The Myanmar government should immediately lift all internet restrictions in eight townships in Rakhine and Chin States, Human Rights Watch said today. The mobile internet shutdown, which began on June 21, 2019, is affecting more than a million people living in a conflict zone.

The internet shutdown, along with restrictions on access by aid agencies, has meant that people in some villages are unaware of the Covid-19 outbreak, humanitarian workers told Human Rights Watch. Local groups report that the shutdown has made it difficult to coordinate the distribution of aid to conflict-affected communities, and to communicate with their field teams to ensure staff safety. A local editor said the shutdown greatly impedes media coverage of the fighting between the Myanmar military and the ethnic Arakan Army, making it hard for villagers to get up-to-date information.

“Myanmar should immediately end what is now the world’s longest government-enforced internet shutdown,” said Linda Lakhdhir, Asia legal adviser at Human Rights Watch. “With armed conflict between the Myanmar military and Arakan Army in Rakhine State amid a pandemic, it’s critical for civilians to get the information needed to stay safe.”

The government first imposed restrictions on mobile internet communications in the townships of Buthidaung, Kyauktaw, Maungdaw, Minbya, Mrauk-U, Myebon, Ponnagyun, and Rathedaung in Rakhine State and Paletwa township in Chin State. The government temporarily lifted restrictions in five townships from September 2019 until February 2020, when they were reinstated. On May 2, the authorities lifted the restrictions in Maungdaw.

On June 12, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications announced the government would extend the internet shutdown until at least August 1 in the remaining eight townships, citing security concerns. “We will restore internet service if there are no more threats to the public or violations of the telecommunications law,” said Soe Thein, the ministry’s permanent secretary, at a media briefing.

Article 77 of Myanmar’s Telecommunications Law authorizes the Ministry of Transport and Communications to suspend a telecommunications service or restrict certain forms of communication during “an emergency” situation. The broadly worded law should be amended to bring it in line with international standards to protect freedom of expression, Human Rights Watch said.

Internet access plays a crucial role in enabling people to access information about Covid-19 and self-quarantine, and to observe other protocols to prevent the spread of the virus. A coalition of nongovernmental organizations has appealed to the World Health Organization (WHO) to urge Myanmar to end the internet shutdowns amid the pandemic. Intentionally shutting down or restricting access to the internet violates multiple rights in addition to freedom of expression, and undermines efforts to control the virus.

Aid groups told Human Rights Watch they feared that shortages of food and water were underreported in many villages in Chin and Rakhine States due to the communications blackout. They also said that in some communities, family members had not been able to send digital payments or contact friends and relatives in conflict areas. Since January 2019, hundreds of civilians have been killed and about 106,000 displaced by the fighting between the military and the Arakan Army.

Internet restrictions have also made it more difficult for the news media to safely gather information and promptly disseminate it. “It is affecting not just the daily activity of our reporting but also for getting news and fact-finding,” said Aung Marm Oo, editor of the Sittwe-based Development Media Group. “Even though our reporters went to conflict-affected areas and interviewed reliable sources, it is difficult to send the material back to the office because they don’t have internet access.”

In addition to the mobile internet, the Myanmar authorities have ordered the blocking of websites of independent and ethnic news media, among many other sites. Between March 19 and May 11, telecommunications operators and internet service providers received five directives from the Transport and Communications Ministry under article 77 of the Telecommunications Law to block 2,172 specific websites, of which 92 were alleged to provide “fake news.” Independent and ethnic media sites such as Development Media Group, Narinjara News, Karen News, and Voice of Myanmar were among those ordered blocked.

The Myanmar government should stop blocking media websites, Human Rights Watch said. State-mandated blocking of entire websites is an extreme measure that can only be justified as the least intrusive measure to protect a legitimate public interest. A broad claim that the sites are posting inaccurate news does not provide justification for blocking the websites in their entirety and indefinitely. The government has not made public any of the directives ordering internet shutdowns or blocking of websites.

The government contends that the mobile internet shutdown does not disrupt the dissemination of information because people in affected areas can use mobile SMS services and public address systems to receive government information. The internet can also be accessed in some locations via fixed connections.

However, the vast majority of internet users across Myanmar use mobile data – through cell phones – to access the internet, which provides more opportunity for people to access information quickly, particularly during crisis and conflict situations. A 2019 survey by Myanmar Survey Research found that while half the total population used the internet, of those users, all accessed the internet via their mobile devices.

The internet shutdown has also hampered monitoring of the extremely vulnerable ethnic Rohingya population in Rakhine State. In January, the International Court of Justice ordered the government to protect the Rohingya from genocidal acts.

Under international human rights law, Myanmar has an obligation to ensure that internet-based restrictions are provided by law and are a necessary and proportionate response to a specific security concern. Officials should not use broad, indiscriminate shutdowns to curtail the flow of information or to harm people’s ability to freely assemble and express political views.

The United Nations Human Rights Council has condemned measures by governments to prevent or disrupt online access and information and called for free speech protections under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In a 2015 Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Responses to Conflict Situations, UN and regional organization experts said, “Using communications ‘kill switches’ (i.e. shutting down entire parts of communications systems) can never be justified under human rights law.” During crises, governments should refrain from blocking the internet and, as a matter of priority, ensure immediate access to the fastest and broadest possible internet service.

In January, UN human rights experts said in Myanmar, “The blanket suspension of mobile internet cannot be justified and must end immediately.”

“For a year now, the internet shutdown has severely impacted the rights of over a million people in Rakhine and Chin States,” Lakhdhir said. “The government should lift the shutdown, unblock websites, and amend the Telecommunications Law to bring it in line with international standards.”

Credit:www.hrw.org

Myanmar: Kirin Should Cut Ties to Military

Japan Beverage Giant Pledges to Address Human Rights Concerns

Plastic crates containing Kirin brand beer at the Kirin Brewery Co. factory in Yokohama, Japan, June 2019.  © 2019 REUTERS/Issei Kato

(Tokyo) – Japan-based Kirin Holdings Company, Ltd. should end its partnership with Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. (MEHL) because of its connections to Myanmar’s abusive armed forces, Human Rights Now, Human Rights Watch, Japan Volunteer International Center, and Shapla Neer said today. The organizations wrote to Kirin on May 22, 2020, urging the global beverage company to terminate its partnership with the military conglomerate, and the company responded on June 12.

“Kirin is putting money right into the pockets of Myanmar’s military, which is responsible for countless atrocities against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Kirin should repair its damaged reputation by disentangling itself from the Myanmar military’s business conglomerate and its abusive armed forces.”

Kirin currently owns a majority stake in Myanmar Brewery Ltd. (MBL) and Mandalay Brewery (MDL) in partnership with the military-owned MEHL. In 2015, Kirin bought 55 percent of Myanmar Brewery Ltd, 4 percent of which it later transferred to the military-owned firm. In 2017, Kirin acquired 51 percent of Mandalay Brewery in a separate joint venture with the firm.

Myanmar’s armed forces, known as the Tatmadaw, have long been responsible for grave violations of human rights and the laws of war against the country’s ethnic minority populations. These abuses culminated in the August 2017 campaign of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, including killings, sexual violence, and forced removal, against the ethnic Rohingya population in Rakhine State.

A United Nations-backed Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar reported in 2018 that atrocities committed by Myanmar’s armed forces “rise to the level of both war crimes and crimes against humanity.” In a September 2019 report, the panel concluded that “any foreign business activity” involving Myanmar’s military and its conglomerates Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and Myanmar Economic Corporation pose “a high risk of contributing to or being linked to, violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law. At a minimum, these foreign companies are contributing to supporting the Tatmadaw’s financial capacity.” The fact-finding mission advocated the “financial isolation” of the military to deter violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

“It has been over six months since the Fact-Finding Mission report advised companies to financially isolate the Tatmadaw, but Kirin still remains in partnership with MEHL,” said Kazuko Ito, secretary-general of Human Rights Now. “Each day that Kirin maintains ties risks that its business operations are aiding the military commit further human rights violations.”

Kirin has additional links to Myanmar’s military. According to Amnesty International, Kirin’s subsidiary MBL made donations worth at least US$30,000 to the Tatmadaw and Rakhine State authorities between September and October 2017. This was at the height of the military’s ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya.

“Kirin has failed to provide a good explanation for its subsidiary donating tens of thousands of dollars’ worth to the Myanmar military and authorities just as its troops were systematically killing, raping, and expelling Rohingya civilians and torching their villages,” said Takatoshi Hasebe, secretary-general of Japan International Volunteer Center. “Kirin should take the Fact-Finding Mission report seriously and end its relationship with these military-owned companies now.”

Kirin Group’s Human Rights Policy states the company will respect international human rights law instruments, including the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. This means Kirin should “avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities, and address such impacts when they occur,” and “seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships, even if they have not contributed to those impacts.”

On June 12, Kirin responded to the groups’ letter, stating that it intends to “address the concerns raised by the international community regarding our business operations in Myanmar” and is “considering all actions and options available to us that will lead to a positive outcome for the people of Myanmar.”Kirin said it had signed the joint venture agreement on the condition that proceeds would not be used for military purposes, but also confirmed it has “formally commenced the process of exploring alternative structural options” regarding its ownership of its Myanmar businesses with help from external advisers.

Kirin also stated that “it is wholly unacceptable to Kirin that any proceeds from the joint-venture with the MEHL could be used for military purposes.” Kirin said it had hired a third-party auditor to “conduct an assessment of the materials provided by MEHL and other publicly available information” after stating “we have formally and repeatedly requested details of MEHL’s financial and governance structures to ascertain whether proceeds from joint-ventures with MEHL may have been used for military purposes.”

Kirin should urgently act to end its business partnership with the MEHL conglomerate and prevent its subsidiaries from making any further partnerships or donations to the Myanmar military, the organizations said.

“Kirin should demonstrate its commitment to its own Human Rights Policy by taking action to end its engagement with Myanmar’s military-controlled companies,” said Toyoaki Komatsu, secretary-general of Shaplaneer. “Such responsible action will show the country’s persecuted minority groups such as the Rohingya that demands for justice and accountability can bring results.”

Credit: www.hrw.org

Afghanistan and Myanmar drown in China’s loans; Afghanistan rejects loan

China’s embarrassment Photograph:( AFP )

Coronavirus may not have been the only virus that China is responsible for. Carried through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China has successfully spread the virus of debt too.

Touted as the greatest plan in modern history to revive global trade, the BRI has been the biggest vehicle for China’s chequebook diplomacy.

The loans have crippled many poor economies and now, some of them are waking up to this fact — for instance Afghanista and Myanmar.. 

China claims to have signed agreements with 138 countries. Estimates say the BRI projects will cost over a trillion dollars.

China is running this lending operation for access and power.

While many countries are already drowning in Chinese debt without realizing it, Afghanistan and Myanmar have taken the first step by rejecting Chinese loans.

China’s renewed push in Afghanistan is a curious case. At first, China wanted nothing to do with this country as ridden by violence, it made no business sense.

However, Beijing sensed an opportunity as soon as Trump said he wanted to exit Afghanistan. Ever since, China has been trying to take CPEC into Afghanistan.

But Kabul sees the pitfalls. Afghanistan’s national debt stand at over 1.3 billion dollars, and China wants to give more loans to Kabul. President Ashraf Ghani has declined the loan.

In Myanmar, the auditor general has cautioned the government against Chinese loans.

Myanmar is already busy paying back loans taken during decades of misgovernance under the military junta. But, Myanmar is firmly in China’s grip. So, saying no to chinese loans won’t be easy…

China is Myanmar’s largest lender, and its biggest trading partner.

Myanmar’s current national debt stands at 10 billion dollars — 40 percent of this debt is already owed to China.

From 1988 to 2010, China gave out massive loans to Myanmar. These loans have been coming due since 2018, and Myanmar is paying back around 500 million dollars per year, including principal and four percent interest rate.

This is a classic example of China’s preadatory lending.

The auditor general has pointed out that loans from China come at higher interest rates compared to loans from financial institutions like the world bank or the IMF. He said, “I would like to remind government ministries to be more restrained in using Chinese loans.”

However, will the government listen?

In January, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi agreed to speed up projects under the BRI. This resulted in 33 agreements, from mega power projects to railways.

Myanmar has already suffered once, it must not repeat the mistake again.

China’s gameplan

Chinese financial institutions lend money for BRI projects. Construction contracts are awarded to mostly Chinese firms.

A Chinese company receives much of the proceeds of the loan and then projects tend to suffer delays or cancellations. There are corruption concerns, and the host country ends up with a massive pile of debt.

Edited By:  Palki Sharma

Credit: www.wionews.com

Myanmar expects worst of Covid’s economic impact from Sept

Rain clouds linger over a construction site during the sunset in Yangon on June 3, 2020. (AFP photo)

Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi said the most severe economic impact from the novel coronavirus outbreak is expected in the final four months of this year.

“We’d like to reassure the people that we’re well prepared to address the impacts,” Suu Kyi said in a panel discussion via video conference on Tuesday. “We believe we’ll be able to overcome them through inclusive cooperation.”

Thailand’s neighbour is due to receive $1.25 billion in emergency loans from international organisations, Thaung Tun, investment and foreign economic relations minister, said in the same panel.

The funds are coming from the International Monetary Fund, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, Thaung Tun said. Further loans may be approved, taking total to $2 billion, according to the government.

Myanmar’s official novel coronavirus case count stands at 262, including six fatalities, although there are concerns some infections are undetected.

Credit: www.bangkokpost.com

Dallas tea company imports rare leaves from woman-owned estate in Myanmar

Rakkasan Tea partners with the Mogok Tea estate to promote economic development within a country still engaged in civil conflict.

Rakkasan Tea Co. in Deep Ellum, run by two combat veterans, imports premium loose-leaf tea from post-conflict countries like Vietnam, Laos and Rwanda with a mission of promoting peace and economic development.

But they’ve recently branched out to Myanmar, also known as Burma, which is still, technically, in a state of conflict. An ongoing civil war between ethnic groups persists even after an oppressive military dictatorship was dissolved in 2011.

Myanmar is in the cradle of tea country, in Southeast Asia bordering China. But because it’s been isolated from the Western world, so have its teas, and it’s extremely rare to find Burmese tea in the U.S.

Brandon Friedman, who runs Rakkasan Tea with co-founder and former fellow soldier Terrence “TK” Kamauf, says sourcing tea from Myanmar presented a challenge. “There are moral questions,” he says of doing business in a country battling corruption. “It’s something I’ve thought long and hard about.”

But it still fits their mission, he says. “The country is unquestionably in a better place than it was. And we are doing our part to encourage that and prod it along, to allow the Burmese people to connect with the wider world.”

Rakkasan Tea Co. in Dallas has imported rare teas from Myanmar.(Rakkasan Tea Company)

Friedman recently connected with Phyu Thwe, who owns the Mogok Tea estate, a 100-acre oasis of ancient tea trees and newly planted trees untouched by the legacy of destructive gem mining in Myanmar.

Thwe grew up in the small village of Mogok but now lives in London and works as an accountant. The 35-year-old wanted to see the world when she left home at 20, but she quickly became disillusioned with the Western lifestyle and searched for a project with more purpose.

She went back to her childhood, where she remembered walking from village to village with her family, stopping to rest under a tea tree on her way back from the forest.

“This is where I need to begin,” she says. “I kind of realized, if I drop dead tomorrow, everything I study or do, it doesn’t mean anything. But if I create some sort of vehicle that creates something that I can leave behind, it will live on.”

So in 2018, instead of studying to become a tax adviser, Thwe chose to study tea at the UK Tea Academy so that she could learn to farm her family’s land and create a business that would provide economic stability to her home village as well as protect and preserve the environment.

Phyu Thwe is the founder of Mogok Tea in Myanmar.(Mogok Tea)

Because tea is not really valued within Myanmar, the ancient tea trees on her family’s land have been virtually untouched. Thwe’s family gave her the land and even told her she was crazy to farm tea, she says. But she’s transformed it into not only a high-quality premium tea operation but also a way to transition the local economy away from the practice of mining and create a model of ethical labor practices and environmental sustainability.

When Thwe was a child, she says, there were green hills everywhere. “Now when I go, there are not many hills left. Everything has been mined. The scenery is gone,” she says.

She started farming 10 acres and employs 12 people whom she pays for the full year, not just during harvest. She has trained them about employee rights, and because there is no health care coverage in Myanmar unless you work for the government, she pays her employees’ doctor bills when they get sick.

“I myself had symptoms of depression, but since this project started, I have felt like I’m no longer depressed,” Thwe says. “Every day I’m working and send money from here [London] to pay them. It’s like if you have a child, but this is not a child, this is for 12 families. That changes a lot over there.”

Thwe and her team are also gentle with the land, as well as the tea leaves. The leaves are hand-picked, and only a little at a time as to not deplete the plant. “Our yield is like a fraction of what others are picking because we let it grow naturally,” she says.

The plants on her property have also been untouched by fertilizer over the years. “So our tea has been grown semiwild and of organic nature,” Thwe says.

Tea leaves are hand-picked at the Mogok Tea estate in Myanmar.(Sai Nun Khay)

Rakkasan Tea Co. has chosen green and black teas from Mogok to add to its lineup. The black tea, which is rare even in Myanmar, is crafted with a “spider leg” twist and has a natural sweetness and fruitiness. The green tea has a toastiness with notes of asparagus.

The tea also has, so far, been unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic due to its rural origins. “The disease hasn’t really spread to these places, so they have more mobility,” Friedman says.

And as we deal with the uncertainty of the pandemic and other stressful current events, tea can be a much-needed salve, whether it’s helping to promote peace abroad or just for taking a calming tea break at home.

The Mandalay Black and Mandalay Green teas are $19.99 each (yields 15-20 cups) at rakkasantea.com.

By: Erin Booke
Credit: www.dallasnews.com

Myanmar Pulls Swiss Firm to Scrutinize China’s BRI Project

The towns of Muse, Myanmar (foreground) and Ruili, China (background), as seen from Muse in Shan State. / Zaw Zaw / The Irrawaddy

YANGON—The Myanmar government says it is receiving help from a Swiss company to scrutinize a China-backed study on Beijing’s ambitious railway project to connect Mandalay with Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province in southwestern China.

At a press conference in Naypyitaw on Wednesday, Myanma Railways Managing Director U Ba Myint said the Swiss company has already stepped in as a third party to review the feasibility study for the Muse-Mandalay Electric Railway, submitted by China Railway Eryuan Engineering Group (CREEG).

The managing director did not disclose the name of the Swiss company, but said the company will cover all their own expenses for the review.

The US$8.9 billion Muse-Mandalay Railway project is part of the backbone of the China Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), which is itself part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Beijing’s grand Asia-Pacific infrastructure plan. The Muse-Mandalay Railway is expected to be a key part of the economic corridor and connect with the Chinese rail network at the Chinese border town of Ruili in Yunnan Province.

The railway an initial part of the strategic China-Myanmar High Speed Railway, which aims to connect Kyaukphyu in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State with Kunming via Muse, in Shan State.

In 2011, Beijing and Naypyitaw first signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to build a railway from Ruili to Kyaukphyu via Muse. The entire rail line was to run 810 km. However, the government of then-president U Thein Sein suspended the project due to strong local objections and concerns about unfair terms, including interest rates and revenue sharing as well as security. The agreement expired in 2014.

In 2018, CREEG (formerly China Railway Group Ltd.) and Myanma Railway signed an MOU to begin the feasibility study. CREEG covered the cost of the study, which was then submitted to the Myanmar government in April last year during Beijing’s second BRI forum. The study included alignment measurements for the route, the number of stations, water samples, and earth, gravel and soil tests.

“The [Swiss] company will check the details of the feasibility study, including railway routes, alignments and specifications. They will also analyze whether the cost [as calculated by the Chinese side] makes sense,” U Ba Myint said. “They will also scrutinize whether there is anything bad for the Myanmar side.”

U Ba Myint added that “if the company finds that it will be beneficial for us, we will pass it on to the related committees to make the final decision. After all the related stakeholders [from the Myanmar government] have reviewed it and advised us that the project should move forward—then we will move forward with the project.”

“We have no plan to implement it at all if the project would be bad for our country,” he said.

Public concern has increased recently regarding the influx of Chinese immigrants, land confiscations and the loss of livelihoods and resources due to the project. In response, U Ba Myint said, “Let me assure you this: we will think carefully in order to avoid causing any harm to the country.”

According to Myanma railways, Myanmar experts already sent back their feedback on the feasibility study to CREEG. During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip to Myanmar early this year, the sides exchanged letters about the Muse-Mandalay Railway feasibility study.

Muse sits on Myanmar’s border with Yunnan and is the largest trade portal between the two nations. With Mandalay as central Myanmar’s commercial center, the railway could become a lifeline for China-Myanmar trade.

The 431 km-long railway is designed to reach speeds of 160 km per hour, meaning it will take only three hours to get from Mandalay to Muse. Currently, Mandalay is connected to Muse via Lashio by a national highway. The drive normally takes more than eight hours.

Critics have raised concerns that the project could burden Myanmar with unsustainable debts and provoke more armed conflict in the project area as the railway will pass through armed conflict zones in northern Shan State.

The majority of local people along the railway have said they were not fully consulted for the project’s environmental impact assessment. Locals said they had received no specific information about the project, though they are increasingly fearful about forced displacement, farmland confiscations, losing water resources and the social impacts of the planned project.

By: NAN LWIN
Credit: www.irrawaddy.com

Myanmar growth to slow in 2020 but rebound next year, World Bank says

An overview of downtown Yangon from Sule. Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing/The Myanmar Times

Although economic growth for Myanmar is forecast to slow to 1.5 percent in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this could rebound to 6pc by 2021, according to the World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects 2020 report released on June 8. The economy grew 6.3pc in 2019.

The slowdown is a result of domestic shutdowns, reduced tourism, as well as disrupted trade and manufacturing. However, the economy is expected to regain momentum next year if the global pandemic is brought under control and global trade resumes.

But the COVID-19 pandemic also brings new challenges to Myanmar, as serious risks remain which could delay the country’s recovery next year.

For example, the pandemic will likely further slow potential growth in the region by weakening investment and the supply chains that have contributed to Myanmar growth over the last decade. Economic activity in the rest of Asia is forecast to contract by 1.2pc in 2020 before rebounding in 2021. The regional outlook will significantly deteriorate if global trade tensions re-escalate.

Based on a survey by the Asia Foundation, half the enterprises surveyed believed business survival represented a moderate or high risk, with garments and textiles, hotel and accommodations being at particularly high risk.

Meanwhile, 92pc of enterprises reported lower sales due to COVID – 19 with 74pc facing sharp declines of more than half of normal sales. Businesses also laid off on average 16pc of their employees due to COVID – 19.

“Our first order of business is to address the global health and economic emergency. Beyond that, the global community must unite to find ways to rebuild as robust a recovery as possible to prevent more people from falling into poverty and unemployment.” World Bank Group Vice President for Equitable Growth, Finance and Institutions, Ceyla Pazarbasioglu, said.

Currently, the Myanmar government is focusing on improving trade and investment with flexible policies, providing financial stimulus to businesses and promoting digital platforms under its COVID – 19 Economic Relief Plan (CERP).

It is also trying to ensure the flow of essential goods such as food, commodities, medicines and medical supplies in the short-term, while raising investment promotion efforts and strengthening cooperation with development partners for more long term stability, Investment and Foreign Economic Relations’ Minister U Thaung Tun said last week.

Credit: www.mmtimes.com

Revealed: UK’s overseas aid fund is major investor in company linked to media crackdown in Myanmar

Pic by Nicholas Ganz (Shutterstock)

The UK government’s overseas anti-poverty fund is “urgently looking into” why a business it owns complied with demands from the Myanmar government to block independent media in the country.

CDC Group’s internal probe was triggered by a Finance Uncovered investigation, which has also prompted Labour shadow international development minister, Stephen Doughty to table parliamentary questions on the issue and suggest CDC should sell its stake in the company.

CDC, the controversial investment arm of the Department for International Development (Dfid), invested US$20m in Frontiir last year – a company providing internet services to 1.3 million Myanmar people.

In March, Myanmar’s transport and communications ministry wrote to all of the country’s internet service providers, demanding they block more than 2,000 websites, including 67 news outlets, on the “pretext” they were spreading fake news about coronavirus.

Frontiir complied with the government’s request, the company confirmed.

Backlash

But this sparked a backlash from Burmese editors, lawyers, and activists.

In a letter of complaint, seen by Finance Uncovered, they accused the provider of flouting human rights law by implementing the government’s orders.

“Your company is helping the Myanmar government censor essential information to vulnerable populations at a period when access to information is key for their very survival”, they wrote.

The Myanmar government, under the watchful eye of the military who retain significant economic and political power, has perpetrated what are widely considered to be serious human rights violations and is violently clamping down on the free media and civil society activists.

The civilian government, which remains subordinate in many spheres to the military, has also overseen the arrest of dozens of dissidents.

When Finance Uncovered asked CDC if it had a view on Frontiir’s decision to comply with the request, a spokeswoman for the bank said it was “urgently looking into these concerns”.

“CDC has clear rules in place to ensure funding does not support any organisation involved in human rights abuses”, the spokeswoman added. 

“We condemn action to restrict the freedom of expression of journalists. The UK Government, our owner, repeatedly raises the issue of internet restrictions and shut downs at the highest levels with the Myanmar Government.”

Conflict

Mobile internet is a vital source of information about coronavirus, but it is also used in conflict-torn regions of the country as a way for communities under attack to warn friends and relatives of coming trouble.

In the northwestern region of Rakhine, formerly known as Arakan state, it has been blocked entirely since last June.

Authorities say the internet blackout is an “emergency measure” necessary to crush the Arakan Army, an ethnic insurgency battling for greater independence.

Frontiir operates in two cities in Myanmar and is currently trying to expand into two more. “None of those cities,” a spokesman for CDC said, “are in or near Rakhine state.”

But some of the websites Frontiir and other internet service providers blocked had held the government to account over its handling of the Arakan conflict, fuelling fears the move is a smokescreen for a further media crackdown.

“The list included independent media websites under the pretext that they allegedly disseminate “fake news””, said the complaint.

“[It follows previous directives] to shut down mobile internet access in Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Rathedaung, Paletwa and Myebon townships. This was a continuation of previous shutdown orders”, the letter added.

In March, news editor Nay Myo Lin was detained for 10 days and charged with terrorism offences after he interviewed a spokesman for the Arakan Army, which had been designated a terrorist organisation. His outlet, Mandalay-based Voice of Myanmar, is on the list of websites the government wants blocked.

And news editor Aung Marm Oo went into hiding after he was charged last year under the Unlawful Associations Act, a law critics say is being used against ethnic minorities and to stifle political dissent. His Rakhine state news agency, Development Media Group, has reported human rights violations during the Arakan conflict. It is also on the list of websites to block.

At the time of publication, both websites were blocked in Myanmar.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of minority-Muslim Rohingya are confined in camps in central Arakan, while corona cases are rising.

Urgent questions

“The human rights abuses of the Myanmar Government including in Rakhine state are well known, so CDC have urgent questions to answer”, said shadow international development minister Stephen Doughty.

“If these allegations about Frontiir and their relationship with the Myanmar regime are proven, CDC must immediately divest.”

CDC is the UK’s development finance institution, which is meant to fund poverty reduction projects in the developing world.

It is wholly-owned by the Department for International Development (DfID).

The fund began life in the late 1940s as the Colonial Development Corporation to fund farmers in the British colonies as part of the post-Second World War rebuild.

Its work is currently overseen by Africa minister James Duddridge. 

In response to a series of parliamentary questions by Doughty, DfID minister James Duddridge confirmed that CDC has invested $78.8m in Myanmar since 2015 in seven businesses including Frontiir.

CDC has been criticised for pouring cash into shopping centres, gated communities, and luxury hotels in poor countries.

It has also drawn criticism for allowing huge windfalls to senior figures through the sell-off of Actis, one of its investment funds. Senior CDC managers effectively sold it to themselves at below market value, investigative magazine Private Eye revealed in 2010.

More recently, the fund was criticised for failing to properly oversee its investments and prevent human rights violations.

Frontiir said its investment from CDC Group had been ploughed into job-creation: 

“[The majority] of Frontiir’s 2100+ employees are Myanmar, and most are under 25 years old who are supporting their families in various regions with remittance”, it said in a statement.

“Frontiir intends to grow beyond urban cities and provide affordable digital access in other regions in Myanmar, including rural hard-to reach areas, while creating jobs for people in Myanmar with CDC’s investment.”

By: Nick Mathiason & Christian Eriksson
Credit: www.financeuncovered.org

India-Myanmar border trade down by 40 per cent

India-Myanmar border trade has gone down by over 40 per cent for the current fiscal year started October 1, 2019.

It is because of the temporary closure of border posts due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to reports, the trade value went down from US$128 million to US$76 million for the same period, a decrease of 40 per cent.

India trades with Myanmar in Mizoram, Manipur, Tamu, Reed, and Thantlang borders.

On March 10 last, the Indian government decided to close border gates indefinitely at the Tamu (Sagaing Region) – Moreh in Manipur.

India is the fifth largest export destination for Myanmar and sixth largest source of imports according to figures from the Indian Embassy in Myanmar.

Also in March, the two governments had announced plans to import 400,000 tonnes of black gram beans from Myanmar between May 2020 and March 2021, according to the report.

Credit: nenow.in