With an extensive telecom sector already placed in Myanmar, country’s new and fourth telecom operator announced its presence at its launch ceremony held in Kempinski Hotel at Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar. With its predecessors – MPT, Telenor and Qatar positioned well in the telecom market, Mytel is all set to carve a niche for itself by reaching out to 92 percent of the country’s population with rural population in major focus.
Chief Communication Officer Mr. U Zaw Min Oo expressed, “In villages, people use more voice service than data. In regards to making profit in rural areas, I am afraid even the existing operators are not making profit from the rural areas. But we are trying.”
In a joint venture with Myanmar and Vietnamese firms, Mytel is owned by
Myanmar National Telecom Holdings Public Company Limited, Star High Pubic Company Limited and Viettel Global, with their percent stake as 23, 28 and 49 respectively.
While presiding over the launch ceremony of Mytel, Myanmar’s commander-in-chief Mr. Min Aung Hlaing talked about the lifestyle changes and the improved socioeconomic status of the people as a result of telecommunication systems.
It is estimated that Mytel SIM cards would be out in the market by March on 3G and 4G networks. Believers of Mytel intend to make their telecom operator the second largest in the next three years and first in the next five years.
The Commander-in Chief of Defence Senior General Min Aung Hlaing made the first call to Vietnamese Defence Minister Mr. Ngo Xuan Lich through Mytel operator.
Mytel intends to make use of the Asia- Africa- Europe submarine cables and reduce service charge to have an edge over its competitors.
With 1100 employees and more to get inducted as it begins its operations in March, it aims to cover 92 percent of the population, wherein 99.3 percent would be urban population and 66 percent would be rural population in voice calling service and 78 percent of the country’s population in data service.
With a 15 year term license and 18 branches across the country, Mytel plans to invest $2 billion in telecommunication and information technology to provide its services across Myanmar.
The ‘world’s most persecuted community’ is facing an uncertain future. Forced out of their homeland by a ruling establishment in the name of eradication of “terrorism”, the Rohingyas are now living in a pitiable state in the squalid refugee camps in Bangladesh. Those who once had roofs over their heads and farmlands to sustain on, now sleep under the plastic of tents, or unforgiving sky, and survive on succour from the contributions of donor nations and rights bodies. Since August 25, 2017 – the day when Myanmar began a crackdown on terrorists belonging to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), officially, in the Rakhine state – lakhs of Rohingyas have fled into neighbouring Bangladesh to escape the bullets of the Army. In a month from August 25, The Economist estimated that the weekly outflow of refugees from Myanmar was the highest since the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
Details of the persecution faced by the Rohingyas are horrific, to put it succinctly. Media reports speak of alleged violence against Rohingya women, children being thrown into fires, and people being shot and their bodies disposed of in the bushes and rivers that dot the landscape of the Rakhine state. Myanmar has repeatedly denied all the accusations levelled at it by international bodies including the United Nations.
In January, however, the Myanmar Army admitted to have killed 10 Rohingyas believing them to be ARSA terrorists on September 2, 2017, in the village of Inn Din, situated to the north of Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine. At the time of writing, it marks the only instance when the powerful Junta accepted a wrong, yet the word ‘terrorists’ associated with those killed appeared like a conspicuous excuse. This reflects on the fact that Myanmar has never recognised Rohingyas as their own people. This is why the Rohingyas have no rights till date in the land they have been inhabiting since before the Colonial times.
Myanmar’s de facto leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who had called the admission by the country’s Army “a positive step”, continues to be under tremendous pressure from rights bodies and other Nobel laureates who want her to actually do more to end the crisis – described by the UNHRC as “ethnic cleansing” – and not “stay silent”. On March 7, the US Holocaust Memorial revoked the prestigious Elie Wiesel Award from Suu Kyi while accusing her and her party, the National League for Democracy, for having “refused to cooperate with United Nations investigators, blocked access to journalists and promulgated hateful rhetoric against the Rohingya community”. While issuing threats to drag Myanmar to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for the “genocide”, Nobel laureates Shirin Ebadi from Iran, Mairead Maguire from Northern Ireland, and Tawakkol Karman from Yemen demanded that Suu Kyi take the Rohingyas back in and provide them with citizenship.
On March 6, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, said that systemic persecution of Rohingyas continue in Myanmar even though the violence has ebbed. Following a visit to the refugee camps in Bangladesh, he said that the new weapons of the Myanmar Army are “lower intensity campaign of terror” and “starvation” with a singular aim to force Rohingyas out of Rakhine and into Bangladesh.
Thus, as the persecution continues at home, Rohingyas are steadily entering Bangladesh – many of them crossing the Naf river, which marks a part of the border between the two nations and is closest to motorable roads leading to Cox’s Bazar.
Mr. Masud Bin Momen, Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations, countered claims that the arrival of refugees has gone down by stating that some 1,500 Rohingyas had crossed into Bangladesh in the first 10 days of February alone. According to reports, the new refugees continue to point at the same atrocities which have been driving the Rohingyas out of Myanmar since August.
According to the United Nations, the total number of refugees in Bangladesh since the start of the crisis in August now stands at around 700,000. But Bangladesh has been a shelter for the Rohingyas, a huge majority of whom are Muslims, even before. There were already over 300,000 Rohingyas in Bangladesh who arrived during similar periods of persecution since 1980s. In mid-January, Bangladesh had registered over a million Rohingyas living in various refugee camps in the country, most of whom are concentrated in Cox’s Bazar district in south-eastern Bangladesh. It is this district which serves as the new ‘home’ of the Rohingyas and is the focal point for rights bodies, administrations and the media who want to document the horrors faced by the persecuted community.
According to Mr. Abu Noman Mohammad Zakir Hossain, Deputy Director of Bangladesh’s Passport and Immigration Department, that one-million-mark is 95 percent of the total number of Rohingyas in Bangladesh.
So, this brings us to the question: How will Bangladesh, a densely- populated and economically struggling nation, deal with the Rohingya crisis?
Dhaka and Nay Pyi Daw had in November 2017 reached an agreement on repatriation of the Rohingyas. They had then agreed that the repatriation of the Rohingyas who arrived in Bangladesh since last August will commence within two months. It was estimated that all of the Rohingyas will be resettled in Myanmar in the next two years. Following the news of the agreement and the registration of Rohingyas, hopes of a positive future rose in the hearts of those looking for peace and settlement of the crisis. But on January 22, Bangladesh said that the process will be delayed. Dhaka cited lack of preparations on the ground for the safe return of the refugees.
According to Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner, Mr. Abul Kalam, Dhaka still had to “build some physical infrastructure, a transit camp and prepare the list based on family and village”. He had also said that Nay Pyi Daw, too, had to “do a lot to ensure a safe repatriation” even though Myanmar claimed that it was ready. According to the Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper the government was making final preparations to house the repatriates at a camp near Maungdaw in western part of Rakhine.
Yet rights groups, too, have expressed concerns about the fate of Rohingyas after they return to Myanmar. Gilmour had raised doubts over the repatriation of the refugees under “current conditions”. The Rights groups and Bangladesh are not the only ones with concerns. The Rohingyas themselves have a lot to say. In January, some leaders of the community showed a list of demands to a Reuters journalist they said should be fulfilled before the repatriation process. Among the demands are release of “innocent Rohingya” the Army detained during the operations against ARSA and a call to hold the military accountable for the alleged crimes.
And even if the repatriation takes place according to the agreement in the near future, where would the Rohingya go? According to the non-profit Human Rights Watch, the Myanmar government has been razing houses in abandoned Rohingya villages. The HRW says that the villages should be “preserved” so that UN experts can document the abuses on the Rohingyas.
So, we are back to square one. For whatever reasons, Bangladesh is unable to repatriate the Rohingyas, and that could translate into a major problem for both Dhaka and the Rohingyas.
Hossain had said that the primary goal of registering the Rohingyas – for which fingerprints, too, were taken – was to prevent them from taking Bangladeshi passport. This means that Bangladesh is in no mood to give the refugees permanent residency and citizenship. Of course, Dhaka has the right not to. The governments of Malaysia and Indonesia – both Muslim-majority nations – do not recognise the Rohingyas living in their countries. But they have been at the forefront of the voices calling for return and rehabilitation of Rohingyas in Myanmar.
There are also some hard truths about Bangladesh. With over 1251 persons per square kilometre, Bangladesh is the world’s most densely-populated country among nations where the population is more than 10 million. Though Bangladesh has steadily clocked a modest GDP growth rate of around 7 percent, a sharp rise in population of the magnitude witnessed in the refugee crisis can go terribly wrong for an economy if not handled deftly.
Early in January, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) Rohingya Emergency Vulnerability Assessment had raised a red flag over under-nourished refugees in Bangladesh’s camps who, at the time, were over 90 per cent of the recent refugee arrivals. And while praising Bangladesh’s humanitarian response, Gilmour had also pointed at the danger lurking in the form of approaching rainy season which have the potential to turn the camps into breeding grounds for diseases.
And then there is always the threat of radicalisation looming large in Bangladesh, which poses a direct threat to peace in the region. Bangladesh’s road transport minister in Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s cabinet, Obaidul Quader, had in December 2017 claimed that Pakistan’s spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was plotting with terrorist elements within the Rohingyas to create disturbance in the region. His concern doesn’t appear misplaced given the fact that the ARSA is led by Karachi-born Ata Ullah.
Radicalisation of Rohingya refugees in the camps has been a concern of many given the rise of fundamentalism in Bangladesh. Though the Bangladeshi government has always championed secularism in the country, it has failed in protecting scores of liberal bloggers and writers from fundamentalists in the recent past.
Aware of the risks faced by her country, Sheikh Hasina had in February urged India to “put pressure” on Myanmar to make them take back the refugees quickly. India, too, has expressed concerns over risk of radicalisation of the 40,000 Rohingyas who live in world’s largest democracy. That there is a risk to Bangladesh can be read from Myanmar’s January demand asking Dhaka to arrest and extradite over 1,300 Rohingyas suspected of taking part in the assault in August 2017 on checkpoints which triggered the aggressive retaliation by the military.
And how will Bangladesh feed the lakhs of mouths who will obviously multiply in the future? Dhaka depends on international funding for providing relief to the refugees. But, as Nazneen Ahmed pointed out, funding will not go on forever. The BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), BRAC University, staff member wrote in The Daily Star that amount of humanitarian assistance is at the discretion of the donor, will continue till the next big crisis comes up, and is dependent on changing patterns in global economy. So, in short, Bangladesh cannot keep the Rohingyas forever by relying on international aid alone.
The pressure on Bangladesh is so intense that it will take the entire international community’s coordinated efforts to lift it off Dhaka’s shoulders. But is the international community doing enough to find a permanent solution to the problem? Will Bangladesh bear the weight all alone and if it does, will it follow Malaysia’s example? What about the security risk to the region if the Rohingyas, many of whom must be harbouring resentment towards Buddhists, are not repatriated? What about Myanmar’s concerns regarding ARSA and how should the UN deal with Nay Pyi Daw? And what about UN Security Council’s consensus on the matter given that Russia and China – two Veto powers – are on a slightly different tangent with regard to Myanmar?
There are a lot of questions but the biggest one is: Will the Rohingyas continue to remain the lesser humans?
Manas Sen Gupta is a journalist who writes avidly on International Relations and Foreign Policy
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not reflect the views of the editorial team of Myanmar Matters.
To escalate the financial service, particularly, with the drive to boost the farming equipment business in Myanmar, South Korean financial firm: Nong Hyup Financial Group is all set to help this South Asian country in achieving the same. It intends to move ahead by roping in its subsidiary- Nong Hyup Finance Myanmar, established in 2016. Also, a joint task force has been formed to aid in business planning; dedicated to the purpose of distributing farming equipment in Myanmar.
With the initial capital of $3 million, the subsidiary- Nong Hyup Finance Myanmar, managed an elevation in its capital generation; about $8 million. The Korean financial group intends to swell the subsidiary’s business prospects by aiming to enhance its customer pool; from 28,000 to 50,000 by supplementing more outlets to its present base of nine branches.
The project is slated to activate its operations in the month of July with Myanmar’s HTOO Group and the Nong Hyup Group of South Korea — both the financial groups being the major business frontiers of their respective countries. The groups plan to provide their expertise and explore additional areas of cooperation, extending to banking and insurance.
With more than 20 affiliates in the domain of agriculture, aviation, food, construction and distribution, Myanmar’s HTOO Group business ventures are massive, and the aforementioned South Korean financial institution is an essential part of the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation.
Honoured as the Chief Guest at the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium Multilateral Maritime Search and Rescue Exercise Forum (IMMSAREX)-2017, Bangladesh President Mr. Abdul Hamid, upheld the need to build robust bridges along the Indian Ocean shoreline for security and safety measures.
Addressing the inauguration at Cox Bazar’s hotel Royal Tulip, he highlighted Bangladesh’s undeterred commitment in maintaining peaceful bilateral relations with the neighbouring countries. Bangladesh’s capabilities in overcoming maritime disputes in an affable manner were brought to light too.
Realising the sheer importance of maritime sector for the economy of Bangladesh, Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) was formed in 2008 with 23 countries of the Indian Ocean, to facilitate maritime trade and commercial activities, and also to promote better and viable livelihood opportunities, ensuring job sustainability and economic growth. Thus, maritime sector’s security from criminal propensities and untoward element was emphasized at the forum.
While stressing on the significance of generating sustainable value and economic benefits from ocean resources, he alluded to the concept of Blue Economy and expressed “We all are aware of the fact that Indian Ocean in contemporary times has the greatest strategic and economic value. It carries huge prospects and potentials to facilitate maritime trade and commerce.”
For the first time, multiple military drills of the forum were showcased in the Bay of Bengal. These exercises ranged from rescue and firefighting operations to discovery of missing fishing trawlers and bringing the accidental ships back to the harbour. Efforts to protect the lives of the people at sea was specifically communicated with the responsibility being shared regionally. Twentythree countries comprising France, Indonesia, Oman, Pakistan, Australia, Bangladesh,Iran, Kenya, the Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Sicilia, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, Timur Leseth, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom participated at the forum. Apart from this, nine countries were felicitated as observer countries – China, Germany, Italy, Japan, Madagascar, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Russia and Spain.
The forum was attended by IONS Chairman Admiral Mr. Nizamuddin Ahmed,Bangladesh Army Chief General Mr. Abu Belal Muhammad Shafiul Huq, Bangladesh Air Force Chief Marshal Mr. Abu Esrar, Malaysian Naval Chief Admiral Mr. Kamarulzaman, Myanmar Naval Chief Admiral Mr.Tin Aung San ,and naval and maritime experts. It also had participation of the naval fleets from India, China, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Iran
While congratulating Bangladesh as a peace-loving country, Mr.Hamid remarked,“Being one of the highest troops contributing nations in the UN peacekeeping operations for the last two decades is a true manifestation of our commitment towards world peace.”
The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) in collaboration with the government of Nagaland organized a two-day North-East Connectivity summit, “Connect North East- 2017”, at the NBCC Convention Centre in later September. With focal emphasis on tourism and connectivity with neighboring countries like Myanmar and Bangladesh, the theme chosen for “Connect NorthEast-2017” was ‘Act East from Nagaland’.
The Chief Minister of Nagaland, Mr. TR Zeliang, addressed the summit with issues like connectivity and tourism engagements, investment and infrastructural prospects. FICCI North East Advisory Council chairman Mr. Ranjit Barthakur avowed the importance of exploring connectivity based infrastructure and investment canvas with Myanmar, Japan, Laos, Russia, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Thailand also, apart from the immediate seven North-Eastern Indian states.
The 4th edition of the North-East Connectivity Summit was attended by people across the spectrum from policy makers, corporates, researchers from think-tanks and central government ministries. Stakeholders belonging to civil aviation, ASEAN region, inland waterways, telecommunication, and financial institution also took part in the event.
With the objective of enhancing Northeast India’s connectivity scope with other countries, the discussions steered through development opportunities, trade and business engagements, and communication and cultural exchange prospects.
Important highlights from the summit involved identifying people to people connectivity opportunities and tourism, establishment of an Economic Corridor with Southeast Asia and other infrastructural requirements.
Myanmar’s Minister of Cultural Affairs Mr. Sai Kyaw Zaw expressed his support and keen interest in harnessing Northeast India’s development potential, and invited stakeholders and people from Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram – as Myanmar shares long borders with all these four states – to develop closer and integrative ties with Myanmar.
With diplomatic participation at the forum, Mr. Kenko Sone, Minister, Economic Affairs, Embassy of Japan expressed, “The northeastern region is located at a strategically and economically important juncture between India and Southeast Asia as well as within the Bimstec community. Therefore, Japan has placed a particular importance on the cooperation in the northeastern region.”
Due to the enormous untapped potential residing in and about the northeastern region, it is essential to establish a shift from the negative lens through which Northeast is commonly perceived – neglect, lack of adequate infrastructure, lesser capabilities – to positive aspects of hospitality, grace in its inborn culture and its production pattern of growth as remarked by former Indian Ambassador to Myanmar Mr. Gautam Mukhopadhaya.
The summit charted paths and resolutions indicating the need to develop and strengthen the “Northeast Brand”. This triggered consultations on developing the North-East Ring Road, North East Implementation Agency and High Powered Economic Forum to ensure efficient planning and execution of projects which would aid the region in attracting investments for rapid upgradation.
The 2018 North East Connectivity Summit would be held in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh.
Aligned to India’s Act East Policy, the North-eastern region of India, is reckoned as an expressway to South-East Asia. Weighed with this significance and potentiality, advancement in the region through scientific technology and innovation is the need of the hour.
Scientific research of Brahmaputra’s ecosystem through India’s first floating laboratory on boat –B4, is one of the three biotechnological missions undertaken by the Ministry of Science and Technology, in the North-eastern region of India.
Brahmaputra Biodiversity Biology Boat (B4) is equipped to study and analyse the change in climate, the anthropogenic components, other topographical features such as soil, water, and the flora and fauna of the region.
“No major river for this size had been studied in this particular region. In future, such projects would be connected with other similar projects in the country,” said Dr.Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister of Science and Technology and Environment.
With the initial investment of Rs.50 crores dedicated to the project, B4’s operation would commence in later December. The early phase of research on this boat would be covering the region from Pasighat, Dibrugarh, Neemati, Tejpur and Guwahati in Assam.
Brahmaputra Biodiversity Biology Boat (B4) is a two-storied barge, enabling scientists to govern thorough research of the factors impacting the river, and discovering valid means of mitigation as well. The second floor of the floating laboratory boat would be for educational purpose, making the local community cognizant of the current condition and characteristics of the ecosystem from a scientific perspective.
The officials and the scientists from the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) have planned to connect the B4 barge with other small and mobile lab boats along the tributaries of the Brahmaputra. Apart from this, links with local research institutions and national laboratories have also been arranged to facilitate the research procedure of B4 by feeding it with adequate data.
Galvanized by the boon of biotechnological application elevating the economic potential and scenario, the state of Assam has welcomed the Guwahati Biotech Park by laying the foundation stone of its Technology Incubation Center.
Assam is the northeastern paradise of natural resources—microbial, medicinal, plant and animal species correctly acknowledged and recognized as one of the biodiversity hotspot regions. Naturally endowed with resources and crops of rich commercial value and economic viability, the bio-resource potential of the region is vast.
Tapping onto its plethora of natural gems and organic farming skills, Assam’s Chief Minister Mr. Sarbananda Sonowal perceive biotechnology as an instrumental tool in enhancing value creation and production, and most importantly in leading Assam as an organic hub.
He believes that application oriented science is the new, rewarding and smarter way of life, triggering the state’s competency in capturing the organic market of the Southeast Asian region.
Skilled and proficient in traditional methods of farming, biotechnological intervention in the same would ensure more productivity and better wealth prospects, particularly in Assam’s agro based industry.
The technology incubation center is being established with a view to integrate and instill a scientific culture of biotechnology. This knowledge-based sector of biotech is being lauded as an emblem of progress, employment and an economic booster, leading and impacting the state’s social and economic development goals.
Pronouncing Assam as an important gateway to Southeast Asia, Mr. Sonowal encourages the youth and the people in general to embrace and develop science based skills and evolve their entrepreneurial development. In effect, generating and promoting business in biotechnology, enhancing research and development activities, as well as augmenting the prospects and scale of biotech industry, is the driving force behind the setting up of Technology Incubation Center of Guwahati Biotech Park.
Viewing the integrative and comprehensive role that media plays in bringing the two countries closer, a two- day media interactive programme was conducted at Sangai Hall of Hotel Imphal in the capital of Manipur. The conclave was attended by high profiled dignitaries and media representatives of India and Myanmar in the quest to interact, engage and innovate ways to further the bilateral relations between India and Myanmar in a manner more amicable and cooperative.
The inaugural session was addressed by the Chief Minister of Manipur Mr. Biren Singh wherein he lauded his government’s initiative in introducing a bus service between Manipur in India to Mandalay in Myanmar in order to facilitate ease in people to people connectivity and smooth exchange of ideas and information. Further, Mr.Biren expressed “The External Affairs ministry has also been urged to take up necessary steps for visa issues by the respective embassies of the two countries.”
The notion behind the organisation of a media interaction programme between India and Myanmar was rooted in Mr. Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Myanmar wherein the idea was proposed by him. The conclave has been reckoned seminal in advancing the bilateral relations of both the neighbouring countries wherein the role of Media as an effective and a powerful tool in delivering good governance to the people has been given central importance to.
The cooperation and participation of Press Council of India and Myanmar Press Council at the event highlighted and corroborated the significance of media in democracy in building and sustaining relationships between people of both the nations, at the same time comprehending the political and economic climate of each other in an easier and more accessible manner.
The thrust of the conclave resided on exploring Media’s role in promoting ‘India’s Act East Policy’, ‘Capacity building of media personnel in Myanmar and India’ and ‘Media’s role in promoting connectivity and trade between Myanmar and India.’
One visit to Myanmar is enough to dazzle travellers. The eclectic fusion of the traditional and the modern, the old and the new entices visitors to partake of and enjoy the way Myanmar thrives, despite the many challenges it faces. The discerning traveller would not miss observing the energy, hope and potential lurking in the air of Myanmar.
Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar has opened its doors to the world in the last couple of years and has become one of the go-to holiday destinations for people across the globe. Myanmar provides something to please everyone and ensures that nobody leaves its shores disappointed. The most popular tourist destinations include Yangon, Mandalay, Kalaw, Bagan to name a few. However, there are a number of places in Myanmar that have remained off the beaten track. This article uncovers such gems.
Loikaw, the smallest state of Myanmar, has largely remained untouched by tourists and is one of the least visited places in Myanmar, which adds to the charm and lure of the place. Loikaw is the capital of the Kayah State. It is located in the Karen Hills area, near the State’s northern tip. Loikaw, along with Demoso, in the Kayah State, have been opened to independent tourists only since 2013.
For a place so remote and unaffected by tourism, the large ethnic diversity one finds in Loikaw is fascinating to observe- Palaung, Shan, Kayah, Kayan are some of the groups found here, each adding their bit in making the state of Loikaw an eclectic melting pot. A stroll through the villages of Loikaw will open up interesting vistas for the tourists in the form of stunning pagodas, temples, stupas, lakes and caves. Tourists are likely to come across ‘long neck women’ wearing golden rings coiled around their necks. A curious traveller will certainly be intrigued by this unusual sight. While it is difficult to trace a reason for this, it is believed that these rings protect the Palaung women from being killed by tigers and the long neck makes them look beautiful.
Loikaw offers a quiet and serene environment to tourists, ideal for indulging their spiritual side and to introspect. One of the most popular sights in Loikaw is the famous pagoda called, ‘Taung Kwe’, towering above the town, on the top of a lime stone hill on the Mingalar Thiri Mountain. The spectacular view of the town especially during sunset makes the journey to Loikaw worthwhile. A cluster of other pagodas such as Myaka Lup pagoda, Shwe Let War pagoda and Nagayon pagoda stand behind Taung Kwe pagoda. Other places that offer a visual treat to tourists include:
i. Seven Stages Lake- a series of seven interconnected lakes, known for the scenic beauty and tranquillity they offer to the tourists.
ii. Christ the King Cathedral- built in 1939, it is Kayah’s oldest surviving church and is a fusion of traditional European architecture and local Buddhist styles.
iii. Kayah State Cultural Museumbuilt in 1996, it is a treasure trove for all the art and cultural aficionados, interested in discovering the life of the Kayah inhabitants. The museum holds a rich collection of books, traditional dresses, household utensils, weapons, paintings and musical instruments.
The sleepy city of Loikaw provides a pleasant introduction to the Kayah way of life and is a base for venturing out into the neighbouring villages.
Sitting on the eastern bank of the Thanlwin river, the capital of Kayin (also known as Karen) State, Hpa-an is a place where time seems to stand still. The laidback atmosphere and breath-taking caves and mountains make Hpa-an a backpacker’s paradise. Thanks to the new highway linking Hpa-an to the Thai border at Mae Sot and Yangon, and improved border crossing facilities at Myawaddy, this remote place is witnessing a steady flow of visitors, especially from the neighbouring Thailand.
The population of Hpa-an, about 421,575 (2014 census), predominantly comprises people of the Karen ethnic group, which make up approximately seven percent of the total Burmese population. The place offers a unique opportunity to the curious traveller to know more about the local Karen culture, as majority of people have held on to their traditional ways and language.While Hpa-an is safe and peaceful for visitors, November is a good time to head there, for the visitor can experience the Karen Don festival and get a true insight into its culture.
Besides lazing around at the delightful riverside, soaking in the picturesque landscape, lush green fields, tourists have plenty to enthral them on their visit.
i. Mt. Zwegabin- Dominating the landscape of Hpa-an is Mt. Zwegabin, about 7 miles south of the town, and 2372 ft. in height. The hike to the summit is demanding, but duly compensated by the stunning 3600 views of the town on offer.
ii. Saddan Cave- Gigantic cavern filled with dozens of Buddha statues, pagodas, wall cravings and a lake, transports the traveller to a different world away from the hustle bustle.
iii. Kyauk Ka Lat Pagoda- Perched atop a limestone pinnacle, this unique and surreal pagoda almost seems to defy gravity.
iv. Kaw Gun Cave- Located near Kawgun village, this is a natural limestone cave and is covered with several Buddha statues, many dating back to the seventh century.
While Hpa-an may not be the preferred place to visit on the trip to Myanmar, it certainly is worth a visit and offers spectacular vistas for the tourists.
Being closed for tourism until early 2013, Dawei is largely undeveloped and unexplored. But, therein lies an opportunity for an adventurous traveller, looking for an authentic and novel experience. Dawei offers jaded travellers everything that a metropolitan city does not- peace, fresh air, pristine beaches, solitude, few people et al.
Dawei is the capital of the Tanintharyi Region and got its independence from the British rule in 1948. It has enormous potential for tourism, as it has something for everyoneuntouched coastline, jungle interior, sprinkling of islands, beautiful pagodas and white sand beaches. With imminent development threatening to disturb the idyllic and untouched environment of Dawei, a trip to Dawei makes for a great treat. Some of the places that could be explored besides lazing around in the town are:
i. Maungmagan Beach- The most popular beach with the locals, around 12 km west of Dawei, Maungmagan has seen a semblance of development; some tea shops, beer stations and restaurants.
ii. Nabule Beach- Tourists can head to Nabule Beach around 15 km north if they want to experience stunning white sands of the Nabule Beach, away from humanity.
iii. Shwe Taung Zar Pagoda- The main religious site in Dawei, the Shwe Taung Zar Pagoda is a sprawling complex of shrines and statues.
Dawei is one of those places where one could just relax and do nothing.
Rudyard Kipling described Burma (now Myanmar) as, “This is Burma. It will be quite unlike any land you know about.” It is calling out loud to travellers, time to answer the call.
Courtesy- Arun Arora is a writer, trekker and a traveler who shares his experiences on various digital portals.
The sweeping victory of the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in 2015 heralded an era of democratic reforms and an end to military dictatorship. The Nobel Peace Prize got bestowed upon her in 1991 while she was still under house arrest and probably not even aware of the news. Overnight, she became an international icon —fought the Myanmar military governance (i.e.theTatmadaw) — forging the path ahead for liberalization and democratization. However, in the light of the recent Rohingya crisis, Myanmar has come under immense criticism from different quarters of the international community. The public shaming of Aung San Suu Kyi has been doing the rounds in social media, news dailies and leading websites whereby she has been highly condemned for keeping quiet on the atrocities meted out to millions of Rohingya refugees in the Rakhine state who are now seeking shelter in neighbouring countries of Bangladesh and India. Her long kept silence was finally broken when she claimed that Myanmar has never been soft on human rights offenders, thereby ‘without offering a hint of solace or consolation’.
A Planned Attack?
The brimming cynicism levelled against Aung San Suu Kyi has been growing far and wide to the extent of stripping her off the Nobel Peace Prize which may not be possible, in reality. However, her alma mater, the University of Oxford, has decided to withdraw an honorary title awarded to her in 1997, in the aftermath of the Rohingya crisis. Criticisms have also come in the form of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human rights expressing their disapproval over the crisis as ‘textbook example of ethnic cleansing’. Another Nobel Laureate Mr. Desmond Tutu reportedly wrote to Daw San Suu Kyi saying that “If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep.”
However, given this background of backlashes and censures, the global community cannot simply keep on harping at it. In fact, it also cannot negate the counternarrative offered by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi of an “iceberg of misinformation” where she has invited the international media to talk to the surviving Rohingya inhabitants and crosscheck the ground realities in the Rakhine region. Interestingly, as quoted in one of the reports by RSIS, there has been one prominent story which came out in the Myanmar social media. It was said that on August 25 2017 the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) had already planned an attack on the military posts in order to provoke the Tatmadaw military to give way to a disturbing scenario. This was ironically a day before the release of the Report by Advisory Commission of Rakhine State. If one goes by this narrative, it can be deduced that such an attack was particularly targeted to damage the public image of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and in turn, ruin her efforts towards building a peaceful and fair future for the Rakhine State. According to Ms. Kang Siew Kheng, a leading researcher at RSIS, who has aptly remarked that “for sure, no deemed past wrongs in history can justify present-day violence, but no present-day policy can bring about reconciliation until the old animosities have been addressed.”
Rakhine State of Affairs
The state of Rakhine has all along witnessed a colonial divide and rule strategy which has been reinforced by generations of politics complicated by extreme poverty and economic deprivation of its ethnic inhabitants. It is important to understand here that the victory achieved by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in 2015 occurred amida wave of nationalism accompanied by growing sense of doubt and suspicion, especially in the case of the Rohingya minorities. The victory of democracy, paradoxically, gave a free rein to some entrenched sentiments that were previously put under harsh control of the military. Significantly, the NLD did not fair that well as it largely did in the other parts of the country. Experts believe that the electoral base of Suu Kyi regarded the Rohingyas “as a late political construct” who were mainly temporary migrant labourers residing in permeable borders. They are now being used to legitimise old claims of autonomy and independence.
The Road Ahead
The future of Rohingya Muslims is undoubtedly at stake and it is essential to understand here that this crisis is not merely an internal conflict concerning Myanmar. It certainly has a larger picture which is attached to the global scenario. At present, even though Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has failed to address the needs of the ethnic minorities, she needs all the help she can, from inside and outside Myanmar. It is time for the neighbouring countries, such as India and China and also the regional bloc ASEAN to intervene positively and engage in a coordinate course of action to bring out a longlasting solution. Isolating Myanmar or imposing economic sanctions on it is certainly not going to reap any results. As it is, the country, over the years, has been slowly struggling to achieve a definitive level of economic and political reforms. The insipid stance taken by the ASEAN on the Rakhine situation following an ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York was not only predictable but disappointing. The Rohingya crisis has the potential to transform itself into a global catastrophe leading to greater instability if not addressed urgently.
At the end, it would be interesting to observe Daw Aung San Suu Kyi put her skills of statecraft to test while she enforces some sort of national reconciliation amid the multitude of challenges that surround her now.
Courtesy- Swati Prabhu is a research scholar & an ardent contributor to National Dailies.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of the editorial team of Myanmar Matters