Celebrities @ Pyay Tower & Residence Gala Dinner
Here are snapshots of the Gala Dinner of Pyay Tower & Residence Development Celebration, was held at the Sule Shangri-La Hotel in Yangon on November 21, 2014. Photos by Wai Yan
Myanmar Rice Prices Reverse Recent Slump After Heavy Rains
RANGOON — Rice prices have pulled back from a sharp slump in recent days, amidst a predicted rise in exports and expectations that recent heavy rains could reduce the size of this year’s crop.
Prices bottomed out at US$280 per 100 baskets (about 1.5 tons) in the middle of October, rising to $380 per 100 baskets this week.
“Due to the heavy rains earlier this month, traders thought there might be a rice shortage in the market,” Chit Khaing, the chairman of the Myanmar Rice Federation (MRF), told The Irrawaddy on Friday. “That’s why the slumped rice prices have been increasing in the last few days.”
Aung Chan, the owner of a 30-acre paddy field in Rangoon’s Mingaladon Township, said that his paddy production will be less than last year’s yields once he finishes harvesting next month.
“I expect that the paddy prices won’t decrease next month due to the heavy rain—there will be less production, which will increase prices,” he said.
The collapse in rice prices came right before the start of the harvest season, threatening a severe impact on the livelihood of farmers, already one of the poorest sectors of Burmese society.
Soe Tun, the chairman of the Myanmar Farmers Association, said that his organization had enacted a scheme to buy paddies at a fixed price above the market rate to alleviate an impending production crisis—a plan that has now been rendered unnecessary by the boost to prices.
“Prices have increased about 10 percent in the last week [from 350,000 to 380,000K], so farmers will be happy, they won’t want to sell us with our prices,” he said.
China has taken steps this year to regulate the import of Burmese rice, demanding a trade agreement guaranteeing that most rice is milled and meets certain quality and hygiene requirements.
As a result, warehouses have retained higher than usual stockpiles of rice, depressing prices to the levels seen last month.
China has long been one of Burma’s biggest customers for rice, much of which is harvested in Burma’s Irrawaddy Delta and shipped over land borders in Shan and Kachin States.
A bilateral agreement on rice standards would allow the MRF to legally export some 200,000 tons of milled rice to China, starting from early January next year. At the same time, the MRF has attempted bolster the market by encouraging a swift conclusion to the export deal.
“We’ve been encouraging to China to buy as much as earlier than January to pull up prices,” Chit Khaing said.
In October, the Myanmar Rice Federation reached an agreement with Indian rice traders to supply two states in northeastern India with 240,000 tons of rice per year at US$400 per ton, although Burmese traders will incur all costs for transporting the goods to the Indian border.
The tender for the Indian export deal will close on Nov. 26. Anticipation over the commencement of trade, along with the impending Chinese deal, has buoyed the market rate for rice this month, according to Soe Tun.
Despite the recent increase, rice prices are still well below the 2013 season rate of US$400-450 per 100 baskets.
Chit Khaing said he expects rice prices to rise to 2013 levels once export arrangements with China are finalized.
“A delegation will come here soon to check the quality of export rice to China,” he said. “I hope that paddy prices will increase as soon as the China and Myanmar bilateral trade agreement is a success.”
According to recent MRF figures, Burma exported 900,000 tons of rice to China, Europe, Japan and South Africa from April to October. The government has set an export target of 1.5 million tons for the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
Miss World Myanmar To Miss World Pageant
The press launch of Wyne Lay, Miss Myanmar World 2014, was organized at the Chatrium Hotel in Yangon on November 13, 2014. Wyne Lay will leave Yangon for London on November 20, 2014 to represent Myanmar at Miss World Pageant 2014 which will be held on December 14, 2014 at ExCeL London in London, UK. Photos by Wai Yan
No Constitutional Amendments Before Next Myanmar Election: MP
RANGOON — Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann has nixed hopes for swift reforms to controversial electoral laws, telling a press conference on Tuesday that any changes to the military-drafted 2008 Constitution can only be enacted after next year’s general election.
The comments from the Union Solidarity and Development Party representative and potential presidential contender came a day after most military lawmakers rejected amending Articles 59(f) and 436 of the Constitution, which bar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from contesting the presidency and give the military a veto over constitutional amendments.
“We will finalize [constitutional debates] on November 25,” Shwe Mann said. “The draft laws submitted by Union Parliament will be decided and approved next week in parliament.”
“Some changes will need a referendum, which will be held in May 2015. Where this results in amending the Constitution, they will be approved after the 2015 election.”
The Burmese Constitution has onerous barriers to change. An amendment must have the support of more than 75 percent of both houses of Parliament, giving the military, with a reserved allocation of 25 percent of all parliamentary seats, an effective veto over any proposal.
Many provisions of the Constitution, including Articles 59(f) and Article 436, require any accepted proposal to then be put to a nationwide referendum, with the amendment carried if it receives a yes vote from more than half of the eligible voter population.
Chapter 12 of the Constitution, which details the process for the proposal and adoption of constitutional amendments, does not specify a timeframe for the Parliament to ratify successful amendments.
Khu Oo Reh, general secretary of the United Nationalities Federal Council, told The Irrawaddy that delaying constitutional amendments until 2016 will undermine the integrity of the next election.
“If none of articles of the 2008 Constitution can be amended and the 2015 election is held based on the current Constitution, it will be very hard to expect that the election will be a free and fair one,” he said.
Shwe Mann has defended the decision by stressing the need for administrative continuity, arguing that the proximity of the next election precludes any radical changes to electoral laws or the structure of government administration.
“It’s impossible… the current administrative landscape will be changed if amendments are enacted during this [parliamentary] term,” he said.
Min Thu, a Lower House lawmaker for the National League for Democracy, said that he agrees in principle that any proposals for constitutional amendments can only be practically implemented after the next election.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy, Min Thu stated his belief that Article 59(f) can still be repealed in the first parliamentary session following the election, subject to a successful passage through parliament and approval in a national plebiscite, allowing Aung San Suu Kyi to assume the presidency after 2015.
Stalled Reforms, South China Sea to Dominate Myanmar’s Asean Party
NAYPYIDAW — World leaders will descend on the surreal capital of Burma this week, an unthinkable event when it was run by a brutal military junta for almost half a century.
Shortly after winning a one-sided election four years ago, the army veterans stunned the world, ushering in a wave of liberal change that convinced the United States and other Western powers that Burma was no longer the pariah it once was.
But this week’s coming out party for the purpose-built city of Naypyidaw, secretly raised from rice paddies by the junta, comes amid mounting concern that the reforms that opened Burma to international engagement have gone into reverse.
The military still holds substantial political power, a peace process to end conflict with ethnic minorities is stalled, and the persecuted Muslim Rohingya minority faces a humanitarian crisis in western Arakan State.
US President Barack Obama is expected to tackle those issues in a meeting with Burma’s President Thein Sein during the summits of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and the East Asia Forum on Nov. 12 and 13.
“We have real concerns, and we have expressed them repeatedly about circumstances in Rakhine [Arakan] State, and the transition to democracy, which is a challenging one,” Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice said on Friday.
“And we will raise those concerns very directly.”
China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will also visit the eerily quiet city where Burma’s leaders and powerful retired generals have isolated themselves from the largest city and former capital, Rangoon.
Competing territorial claims between China and four Asean nations will form an undercurrent of tension at the meetings.
Maritime spats peaked this year in May, when China sent a giant oil drilling rig to waters claimed by Vietnam. The move sparked deadly anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam, which along with the Philippines has sought closer US ties to counter what they see as China’s aggression.
Philippines President Benigno Aquino will address that this week, a member of his delegation told Reuters, describing it as the “most pressing security issue facing our region today.”
For all the blunt backroom talk, the Asean grouping is reluctant to antagonize China and a draft of the chairman’s concluding statement, obtained by Reuters, shows little change since foreign ministers met in August.
“We expressed our concerns over recent developments in the South China Sea, which have increased tensions,” the draft said, urging all parties to “exercise self-restraint, refrain from the use or threat of force, and avoid actions which could undermine peace and stability.”
The South China Sea row is so divisive that a summit in Cambodia in 2012 failed to issue a final communique. Despite being a relative novice to the international stage, Burma has so far managed to avoid such an embarrassing breakdown.
Obama to Stay in Kempinski Hotel in Burma Capital: Report
NAYPYIDAW — During his visit to the Burmese capital Naypyidaw this week, US President Obama is expected to stay in a hotel managed by the Kempinski Hotel Group and owned by two Burmese conglomerates, a minister has told a local news outlet.
The Messenger News Journal on Monday reported the choice of accommodation by the president and attributed the information to Deputy Minister of Hotels and Tourism Sai Kyaw Ohn, who was quoted as saying, “Now they [US Secret Service] are solely taking care of the hotel’s security, so we don’t need to help them a lot. Security has been tightened.”
Obama is expected to arrive in Naypyidaw on Wednesday to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and East Asia summits, which Burma is hosting this year as Asean chair.
There was a heavy security presence around the hotel on Tuesday, but hotel management declined to confirm the report about the president’s visit when contacted by The Irrawaddy.
In August, the Switzerland-headquartered Kempinski Group announced it would open the 140-room, five-star Kempinski Hotel—reportedly the most expensive of all hotels in the capital—on time for the Asean meeting this week. At the time, hotel management said there were two rooms available with bullet proof glass that could accommodate visiting government leaders.
The Kempinski Hotel was built on 50-acre premises and funded by local conglomerates Kanbawza (KBZ) Group and Jewellery Luck Company, which have invested US$45 million total in its construction, taking 50 percent shares each.
KBZ Group owns one of Burma’s largest banks and also has business interests in the domestic airline industry; it was founded in the 1990s in the Shan State capital Taunggyi and is owned by Aung Ko Win. Jewellery Luck Company was founded in 1995 and has business interests in trade, hotels, timber logging and mining.
Unlike dozens of other Burmese firms, KBZ and Jewellery Luck are not on the US Treasury sanction list. US Secretary of State John Kerry caused a stir in August when his delegation booked into the Lake Garden Hotel, owned by blacklisted Zaw Zaw’s Max Myanmar group. The State Department said at the time that Kerry had done nothing wrong.
Kempinski is one of four international hotel chains in the capital. United States’ Hilton Hotels, Singapore’s Parkroyal and France’s Accor Group all opened luxury hotels in Naypyidaw in partnerships with local business conglomerates ahead of the Asean meeting.
Work on Burma’s new capital began about a decade ago on orders of the former military junta, which enlisted the help of the country’s tycoons to construct government buildings and hotels in the capital. To this day, the government encourages investment in the sprawling but largely empty city that is home to mostly government officials.
Honoring Vareity Concert # Myanmar U-19
The Fundraising Variety Concert for Myanmar U-19 Soccer Team, FIFA U20 World Cup 2015 (New Zealand) Qualifier, was staged at the Thuwunna Indoor Stadium in Yangon on November 2, 2014. Myanmar well-known Film Stars performed "Lu Kyun Ball" or "Offside" Drama Show. Popular Signers: Sai Sai Kham Hlaing, Rzarni, Zaw Paing, Wai La, G Latt, Tun Eaindra Bo, Chit Thu Wai, Ni Ni Khin Zaw, Bobby Soxer, Eaint Chit and other also performed for this Fundraising event. Photos by Wai Yan
Festival of Joy and loss
TAUNGGYI, Shan State — Floating fire balloons and colorful fireworks will light up the skies of the Shan State capital Taunggyi this month during the annual eight-day Tazaungdaing festival which runs from Oct. 30 to Nov. 6.
Tens of thousands of spectators will flood into the town from near and far to see the fire balloon competition, the main attraction of this unique event, also known as the Festival of Lights. Each year, more than one hundred fire balloons of various shapes, sizes and designs are floated up into the sky to mark the end of Kahtein, where robes are offered to Buddhist monks.
The wonderful spectacle is not without its critics, who cite the millions of kyat spent on homemade fire balloons and fireworks as wasteful. It can also be seriously dangerous, with falling balloons and stray fireworks often causing fires that send onlookers scrambling for safety. Most accidents occur, however, during the making of the fireworks. In one tragic incident two years ago, four people lost their lives.
A few days before the 2012 festival, Sai Aung Myo and five of his friends gathered at his home to prepare fireworks using gun powder, sulfur, magnesium, paper and bamboo sticks. Most of the fireworks were to be installed on the bamboo frame at the base of the fire balloons. Another friend was testing a small rocket, their homemade creation, outside the house. When the rocket was lit, instead of heading skyward, it veered directly into a room where Sai Aung Myo’s five friends were working, igniting the gun powder and other incendiary materials.
“It was so fast. No one knows how the rocket entered the room through a very narrow opening of the door. The fire broke out after a small blast and the house was burned down. All five of our friends were rushed to hospital with serious burns,” 26-year-old Sai Aung Myo recalled.
Four of his friends died, day after day, one by one, after several days in hospital. The only survivor, who suffered burns to almost 80 percent of his body, is still receiving medical treatment.
Sai Aung Myo, who was a balloon master and leader of the HninThauk team, faced trial over the deaths but was spared from imprisonment. He remains grateful for the kindness and understanding of the families of the deceased, the fire balloon festival committee and local authorities.
“I have to thank them all for understanding that the incident was just an accident and not intentional,” Sai Aung Myo said. “We were so saddened after losing our friends in this tragedy that we decided not to do another balloon,” he added, his eyes wet with tears.
However, the former team leader who, like many other Taunggyi residents, remains passionate about fire balloons, returned to the festival in 2013 as a jury member, assessing the designs of competing balloons.
“I have no energy to build a fire balloon without my friends. I still feel bad for [them] and still remember their suffering faces. In the meantime, the jury committee invited me to participate… Since I still can’t break [from my passion for] fire balloons, I decided to be part of the jury team,” he said.
Accidental fires often occur before the festival, when teams are preparing homemade fireworks. About seven years ago, balloon master Sai Kyi Thein’s garage caught fire while some of his team members were preparing fireworks.
“Suddenly there was an explosion and the person who was mixing chemicals was lifted off the ground due to the force of the explosion. His brother and others who were close to him received serious burns. The brother survived but two others sadly died after a few days. The house was left intact but the garage remains a pile of ashes,” said Sai Kyi Thein, now a balloon master on the Nga Pyin team.
“Ko Naing, whose arms and chest were burned, gave up fire balloons because they reminded him of his younger brother. However, he does visit the festival ground, enjoys the fireworks and always encourages us to be careful,” he added.
Ko Nyan Lin, a balloon master with the Ozone, Thudanu and Sidawgyi teams, lost a child due to a fire balloon-related accident. His second child, who was just a few days old, died two years ago due to lead poisoning.
“We used lead to create silver colored fireworks. My wife was heavily pregnant when we prepared those fireworks and when my son was born, he died after a few days. The blood test showed a high content of lead in his blood,” Ko Nyan Lin said.
A lack of research and knowledge about the making of fireworks is partly to blame for a string of deadly accidents. Young people, who are practicing the traditional way of mixing chemicals to create homemade fireworks, primarily rely on information passed down to them or obtained from the Internet.
“If we are allowed, we would like to have a small lab in which we could test and research the [different] chemical reactions. Then we would be able to prevent accidents and the traditional techniques for creating fireworks would be improved in the future,” Ko Nyan Lin said.
The fire balloon competition has three categories in which balloons are launched both during the day and night. During the day, huge balloons called ‘Ayoke’ adorned with colorful animal figures are released. At night, balloons are decorated with fireworks (Nya MeeGyi) and with candlelit lanterns (Sein Na Pan).
The latter are a favorite among spectators and earn the highest rewards. This year, first prize for the Nya MeeGyi balloons category is 45 million kyat (roughly US$45,380). But when the cost of making one of these balloons varies from at least 30-80 million kyat, it’s not about the money, but the beauty of their creation and design.
“Since the festival is all about offering the light to Buddha and the Sularmani Pagoda, which is said to be built in heaven, we made these balloons to offer the best we have [with our] skills, time and money,” Ko Nyan Lin explained.
These days, the fire balloons of Taunggyi have become increasingly popular and some other towns and cities across the country hire the teams from Taunggyi to make the Nya Mee Gyi fire balloons for certain Buddhist religious festivals.
Some teams from Taunggyi have travelled to Pyin Oo Lwin, a hill station town near Mandalay, to participate in the town’s famous pagoda festival, which falls at the same time as Taunggyi’sTazaungdaing. However, the teams complained that the atmosphere of the town was lacking and the festival less lively than in Taunggyi.
“It was all about winning the prize and the money,” said Ko Nyan Lin, who once competed at the festival in Pyin Oo Lwin. “In Taunggyi, where the festival committee is completely under the control of the town’s elders… the competition is all about unity, friendship, love and peace. We never fight but always help the other teams since we are preparing the fire balloons three months before the festival.”
For the fire balloon lovers of Taunggyi, nothing can overcome their passion for the making and viewing of these homemade balloons. “Sometimes, we feel sad after the accidents and health problems. But our minds are so focused on the fire balloons that the sorrows in losing our homes and loved ones spectacularly fade away. The passion over the fire balloon is deeply rooted in us like a virus,” said U Than Zaw, a veteran fire balloon master and a jury member whose home was burned down in 2010.
“This virus, the love virus over the fire balloons festival, the Tazaungdaing virus, will die only after we die.”
US Blacklists Burma Ruling Party Lawmaker
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Treasury on Friday blacklisted a hard-line lawmaker of Burma’s ruling party, accusing him of undermining political and economic reforms.
Human rights activists step welcomed the action against Aung Thaung, who was industry minister under the former ruling junta and a leader of a pro-military organization blamed for mob attacks. His family has extensive business interests in Burma.
The announcement came two weeks ahead of a visit to Burma by President Barack Obama for a summit of regional leaders. Obama on Thursday called Burma’s President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, urging credible elections next year and addressing sectarian tensions.
The U.S. has rolled back most sanctions against the country as it has shifted from military rule since 2012. But to the chagrin of American companies wanting to invest there, Burma retains targeted restrictions against some individuals and companies.
“By intentionally undermining the positive political and economic transition in Burma, Aung Thaung is perpetuating violence, oppression, and corruption,” said Adam Szubin, the director of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which oversees the sanctions.
“The United States firmly supports the Burmese government’s progress on reforms, and we remain vigilant about targeting those whose activities facilitate repression and dictatorship,” he said in a statement.
Szubin was not more specific about those allegations, but did mention that Aung Thaung has been implicated in previous attacks on the democratic opposition.
Aung Thaung was a leader in a pro-junta organization accused of conducting a 2003 attack on a convoy carrying opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi that killed a number of her supporters. He later served in senior leadership positions in the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party.
Recent mob violence by Buddhist extremists against minority Muslims has stirred concern similar forces could be behind sectarian clashes that Western officials say could threaten Burma’s transition to democracy. Aung Thaung has denied any involvement.
Aung Thaung could not be reached for comment Friday. Burma’s government spokesman did not immediately respond to an email on the matter.
Since Burma embarked on democratic reforms, Burmese nationals added to the U.S. sanctions list have principally been officials suspected of trading weapons with North Korea. Blacklisted individuals and companies are prohibited from holding assets in the U.S. and doing business with Americans.
Rights activists have long pushed for Aung Thaung to be included.
John Sifton, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch in Washington, said there were serious allegations over Aung Thaung’s complicity in past crackdowns, and that his family’s business ventures involved human rights abuses like land grabs and forced labor.
“Burma cannot complete a transition to democracy if the existing military leadership and its cronies refuse to relinquish their power and corrupt revenue sources,” he said.
The U.S. Embassy in Yangon itself recommended blacklisting Aung Thaung and two of his sons some six years ago, according to diplomatic cables obtained and released by WikiLeaks. The sons are still not sanctioned.
A Sept. 19, 2008, cable said the sons, Pyi Aung and Nay Aung, amassed tens of millions of dollars running Burma’s second-largest timber company, exporting rice and winning contracts to explore for oil and gas. Nay Aung was also suspected of brokering arms deals with China and North Korea.
When the Obama administration took office in 2009 and opened the door to diplomatic rapprochement with Burma, it shied away from sanctioning more officials as it sought to win the confidence of its ruling generals and encourage democratic reform.
MAMDA CAR SHOW 2014 IN YANGON
Here are snapshots of "MANDA Car Show 2014", which was being organized from 30th OCT to 1st NOV 2014 for 3 Days at the Minder Ground in Yangon. The show was organized by Myanmar Automobile Manufacturers and Distributors Association. Photos by Wai Yan