An Independent Survey of Events in Myanmar
Uproar forces Myanmar U-turn on US$8 billion contract
Financial Times - 2 September 2014
Public opposition has forced Myanmar’s authorities into a rare U-turn over a contentious plan to hand an unknown company an $8bn deal to build a massive new township in the country’s largest city. Yangon’s regional government said it would now offer the contract in an open tender, after lawmakers, activists and media condemned the decision to make the award without competition or even disclosure of the winning company’s ownership or experience. Continue reading.....
The Muslims of Arakan and the Baxter Report
Rohingya Blogger - 30 August 2014
Aman Ullah reviews the circumstances which gave rise to the 1940 Report by Financial Secretary James Baxter. Quoting from the Report and the subsequent Indo-Burma Agreement of 1941, he notes in conclusion that:
- There was an Arakanese Muslim community settled so long in Akyab District that it had for all intents and purposes to be regarded as an indigenous race. There were also a few Mohamedan Kamans in Arakan and a small but long established Muslim community around Moulemin which could not be regarded as Indian. [Quotation from Paragraph 7 of the Baxter Report of 1940]
- At the time of 1931 census nearly 77% of the Indians in Arakan were born in Burma. [Taken from Paragraph 21 of the Baxter Report of 1940]
- The Government of Burma recognized that Indians who were born and bred in Burma, have made Burma their permanent home and regard their future and the future of their families as bound up with its interest are entitled to be regarded as having established a claim if they which to make it, to a Burma domicile and therefore on the benefit of section 144 of the Government of Burma Act, 1935. [Quotation from the Indo-Burma Agreement of 1941]
The fact that the British recognised the permanent residence of all Indians, whatever their religion, present in Burma as at 15 July 1941 is a very important support for their claim and that of their descendants to citizenship of Myanmar.
Articles in the Rohingya Blogger have in the past frequently denied that there was any large-scale migration into Arakan from Bengal under British rule, claiming that "Chittagonians" enumerated in the 1921 and 1931 Census were only seasonal workers. The present article implicitly acknowledges that this was not the case, highlighting the fact that only 23.2% of all Indians in Arakan were born in India which meant that the remaining 76.8% born in Burma were not temporary residents.
Population Census: Provisional Results
New Light of Myanmar - 31 August 2014
Union Minister for Immigration and Population U Khin Yi announced at a press conference on 30 August the provisional results of the population census. Myanmar's population was 51,419,420 according to the 12-day nationwide census starting from midnight on 29 March 2014. 50,213,067 are persons enumerated and 1,206,353 are estimates from parts of northern Rakhine, Kachin and Kayin states who were not counted. There were more women (26.59 million) than men (24.82 million). Myanmar's 10,889,348 households had an average household size of 4.4 persons. The urban population amounted to 14,864,119 persons or 29.6% of the total population.
[The UN Population Fund has at the same time released a nine-page summary of the provisional results, available at this link.]
U Khin Yi said the census enumeration did not cover every household or population in the three districts Maungdaw, Mrauk U and Sittway, of Rakhine State and it could not be completed in 25 village-tracts in Kachin State. But, for some villages in Hpapun Township, the ministry was provided with a summary count of households and people by sex by KNU headquartered in these areas.
The Union Minister, who is also the chair of Myanmar’s Central Census Commission, continued that the mission rated the quality of enumeration as 7.5 out of 10 and a few observers even cited this as one of the best enumeration exercises they had seen in their observation of censuses.
According to the Commission, the main results of the 2014 Census will be released in May 2015, followed by thematic reports from November 2015 onwards. During the 12-day national census, 98% of the population within the borders of the country had been enumerated. The last census in Myanmar was conducted in 1983.
Letter to the Editor of The New York Times
The New York Times - 29 August 2014
Re “Myanmar Regresses on Rights” [Editorial 22 August 2014]
The sanctions policy of the Clinton and Bush administrations clearly failed in its efforts at “regime change.” The Obama administration’s enlightened policies, even if constrained by congressional attitudes, have materially supported the reform movement in Myanmar.
In any government undergoing traumatic, positive change, there will be elements resistant to such movements. President Thein Sein has moved more rapidly, comprehensively and positively in three years than most Burmese or foreign observers could have imagined.
Rather than threats of sanctions reimposed, and despite congressional lobbying for such actions, support to these reform efforts should continue. Threats are not an approach to progress in Myanmar. No major donor will back them, nor will any Asian state or institution.
Without doubt, many reforms are urgently needed in Myanmar. Support and dialogue, rather than threats, will be more productive.
David I. Steinberg
Bethesda, Maryland - 22 August 2014
[The writer is Professor Emeritus of Asian Studies at Georgetown University]
New parties must contest by-election or face deregistration
Mizzima - 28 August 2014
Up to 24 new political parties face de-registration if they do not contest at least one seat in the  by-elections due later this year, say senior Union Election Commission officials. The requirement applied to parties registered in states, an UEC departmental director, U Nyunt Tin, told Mizzima on August 27. Parties registered to contest elections throughout the nation were required to contest at least three seats, he said. U Nyunt Tin said that the three seats could be any combination of Pyithu, Amyotha or state or regional legislatures.
A total of 25 parties have registered since the 2012 by-elections, including the Rakhine National Party which has representatives at both State and Union level because it was formed by a merger between the Rakhine National Development Party and the Arakan League for Democracy. Another two parties are thought to have registration applications pending with the UEC and would be required to contest the by-elections if they are registered.
Parties that contested either the 2010 general election or the 2012 by-election will not be required to contest the by-elections, which will fill 13 vacancies in the Pyithu Hluttaw, six in the Amyotha Hluttaw and 15 in regional or state legislatures. In February 2012, the UEC dissolved two parties registered after the 2010 general election because they failed to field candidates in three constituencies in the 2012 by-elections.
The UEC officials could not specify a deadline for the registration of candidates, saying it would be announced when a date is set for the by-elections.
Religion for Peace and Freedom from Fear
Address by the Sitagu Sayadaw to a visiting US delegation
On 21 August 2014 the Sitagu Sayadaw delivered an address to members of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom who yesterday issued a press release on their visit. The essence of the Sayadaw's message is contained in the conclusion of his address:
"I would like to say that Myanmar is facing various problems and difficulties. Because it was under colonial rule for nearly a hundred years and even after independence, it was fighting civil and communal war for nearly sixty years. Many organizations from abroad came to Myanmar with the intention of solving such problems. But, instead of solving it, we found that they sometimes made the situation worse and worse. Therefore I would like to request you to find a better solution for such problems.
"What I would next like to say is that the Myanmar government is now trying to establish internal peace and stability with the intention of ceasing civil war and communal violence. At this crucial juncture, some religious extremists are frustrating the process with provocative statements and actions. I would like to request you to give your hands in the process of solving problems and conflicts. A methodical approach is essential for the peace process. It is also necessary not to make things from bad to worse and more complicated.
"As devout Buddhists, we also promise that we are going to solve these problems without violence and we will do it firmly standing on the teaching of the Buddha, that is tolerance, forgiveness, serving society, sacrifice for others and rationality."
Derek Tonkin writes: The Sayadaw' s message is one we can all take to our hearts. He also had some strong words to say about British colonialism. While some of his comments are difficult to refute, his remark that "many Africans were imported as slaves when the United States of America was established. In the same way, the English rulers illegally imported labourers from India and Bangladesh to Myanmar for the hard labour during their rule," merits some respectful comment.
As is well known, until 1 April 1937 Burma was a province of India, and there were no border controls between India and Burma. Indeed, until the Japanese invasion in late 1941, Bengalis crossed freely into Arakan without let or hindrance. As both Burmese and Indians were "British Subjects", this meant that they had the same status and could visit and take up legal residence in either country virtually at will. In October 1941 an agreement between the (British) Governments of India and Burma regulated Indian migration into Burma for the first time ever, but the Agreement was not ratified by the time of the Japanese invasion two months later, and so never came into force. The Agreement recognised however that all Indians who had taken up residence in Burma were there legally, subject to conditions attaching to particular groups.
It is therefore difficult to see how Indian migration into Burma at the time could be classed as "illegal" when it was indeed promoted by the British authorities of both India and Burma.
It is also worth recalling that many Muslims were taken from Bengal as slaves into Arakan in the 17th century. These slaves were in no sense a consequence of any British action. The Sayadaw would know who was responsible.
In contrast to their colonies in Africa, the British in Burma did not own vast landed estates. Bengalis were attracted to work in Arakan by mainly local landowners, who either owned lands privately, or as "grantees" or zemindars from the government. Rakhine landowners welcomed Bengalis because they were industrious and thrifty, did not drink alcohol, did not gamble and invariably paid their fees and dues promptly. As time went by, however, Bengali workers began to settle in Arakan, buying land from local Rakhine and grantees, although there had initially been no shortage of land for acquisition and cultivation.
[The 'Arakan News' of 27 October 1877 had a rumbustious article about supposed Chittagonian exploitation of Rakhine residents: "Yes; Akyab is a prey to the Chittagonians, who look upon it as the vulture on its victim, and scrape it to the bone". We might ask who is to protect the "lazy Arakanese" from these depredations.]
That mercurial 'enfant terrible' Maung Zar Ni has seemingly launched a verbal assault on the Sayadaw in most immoderate language. In my own case I was recently described by Zar Ni as "senile, racist, ill-informed and intellectually incompetent", but I think I may have been let off lightly by comparison with others who have been the object of his ire. I gather I may also have incurred his disapproval because I am suspected, single-handed, of training Pol Pot's murderous Khmer Rouge guerrillas in Cambodian jungle warfare. I would not myself have thought that the Khmer Rouge would have needed any military training from me.
- Over 20,000 risked their lives in Indian Ocean crossings this year - UNIC
- Thousands starved, beaten in risky boat escape to Malaysia: UN report - CNN
- Report: SE Asia Irregular Maritime Movements January-June 2014 - UNHCR
High stakes in Myanmar's peace process
Murray Hiebert and Phuong Nguyen: Asia Sentinel - 22 August 2014
A perceptive and succinct analyis of the ethnic peace process and how the West can assist, this article merits careful reading. The authors conclude:
"In the near to immediate term, it is important that Washington maintains and seeks to expand diplomatic support and assistance programs designed to help foster trust between Myanmar’s ethnic groups and the government, and empower civil society groups to fully participate in the country’s peace-building initiatives and future political dialogue. Myanmar ethnic leaders have said they would like to have U.S. observers, along with representatives from ASEAN, China, Japan, India, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United Nations, present at the signing of the nationwide cease-fire accord, a call Washington should consider, assuming the government agrees to this grouping.
"Even if the nationwide cease-fire agreement can be reached before the end of the year, the next major challenge will be getting the political dialogue launched and allowing it to take root before President Thein Sein’s current term expires in early 2016. The road to achieving a lasting political solution to Myanmar’s ethnic conflicts will be long and difficult, and it is important that the United States and other countries that are serious about supporting Myanmar’s democratic transition channel as much attention and as many resources as possible to help ensure the peace process stays on track."