Activists to launch global campaign against Shwe Gas

Dhaka: A global campaign against the Shwe Gas Project in western Burma’s Arakan State will be held on the 1st of March, said Ko Won Aung, the coordinator of the Shwe Gas Movement based in Thailand.

“We will carry out three main activities that make up our global campaign against the Shwe Gas Project. First we will demand the foreign governments and stake holders in the project to temporarily suspend the project withdrawing their respective investments from the project in consideration of social suffering, environmental damage and human rights violations impacted by the project in our region, and second a signed petition by over 100 organizations will be sent to President U Thein Sein, and third we will hold demonstrations in a number of countries that include stake holding countries in the project”, said Ko Won Aung.

He said they have to demand the suspension of the project because the locals rights and benefits are being neglected in the project.

“We have not found any conditions that guarantee the rights and benefits for our local Arakanese as well as the whole Burmese people in the project and the government is also not transparent about the project. That is why we have to continue to demand the suspension of the project until the gas for domestic use and the rights and benefits of local peoples are guaranteed in the project”, he said.

Ko Won Aung said the petition letter they will send to president U Thein Sein for the suspension of the project will be signed by the local Arakanese and international organizations that are working for social welfare, the environment and human rights.

He said they have written in the petition to the president that the natural gas from the project is very important for the energy sector in the country and should be sold to foreign countries after fulfilling domestic demand and that the government should temporarily suspend and continue the project after ensuring the rights and benefits of the local people and the necessities of gas in the country.

The offshore Shwe gas reserve in Arakan coast was found by the joint explorations of the Burmese regime’s oil and gas enterprise and the Daewoo International Corporation in 2004 and is now being developed to produce and export gas to China through the pipeline. The Burmese regime will earn an estimated $29 billion USD from gas exports from the reserve.

As the project is not transparent and has been troubling the local people with rights violations such as forcible land confiscations and relocations since it was started, the local peoples have risen to voice and demand their rights from the project including 24-hour electricity in their region to be supplied from the power generated by gas from the project as well.

The Burmese regime still reluctant however and neglecting to listen to and meet the demands of local people, and continuing the project in partnership with international governments and companies.

Shopkeepers Face Burden of Fees after Market Fire in Thandwe

Thandwe: Shopkeepers in the main market in Thandwe in southeastern Arakan State, which was recently damaged by fire, are facing additional burdens as the local municipal authority is collecting fees from them to build a temporary market, said one of the shopkeepers.

The fire that broke out on 11 February, 2012, in the Dawrawady Myoma Market in Thandwe left 740 stores in the market completely destroyed and caused losses upwards of a hundred million kyat.

“The municipal authorities are now collecting a fee that ranges from 150,000 to 170,000 Kyat from a shopkeeper to build a temporary market at the old football grounds in the town before reconstructing the market devastated by the fire. Now we the shopkeepers are feeling very upset because the authorities have troubled us with an additional burden while we are are already suffering from the fire,” said the shopkeeper.

He said the government should provide some aid to the shopkeepers who are now suffering from great losses and troubles from the fire.

“In the condition while people are suffering from great losses and trouble, the government should bear expenses for building the temporary market, and later it can collect its expenses for the market from the shopkeepers gradually. Now it is quite clear that the government has no sympathy or good will towards the people and it is giving more trouble to the people who are already troubled,” he said.

According to him, the local municipal authorities are now planning to rebuild the market destroyed by the fire by collecting advance payments from the shopkeepers for the stores in the market as well.

“The municipal officials told us that they would rebuild the market in a modern design and would sell the shops in the market in advance and that those who are unable to afford the price in advance would not get a shop in the market. Now all of the shopkeepers are dissatisfied with them upon hearing their plans because the shopkeepers are suffering from great losses and most of them will lose their livelihoods if those plans are carried out,” said the shopkeeper.

He said the shopkeepers at present are continuing their trade by building makeshift shops around the market that was damaged by the fire. According to a report from the local fire service, 740 out of a total 909 stores in the market were destroyed in the fire, causing total losses of 650 million kyat.

Indian company in charge of Shwe Gas Project troubles local contractors

Kyauk Pru: India’s Punj Lloyd that is responsible for constructing pipelines in the Shwe Gas Project in Kyaukpru in southeastern Arakan State has been allegedly breaking its financial promises to local contractors over works ordered by them.

India workers at a construction site of Kyauk Pru.

One of the contractors told Narinjara that Punj Lloyd is still to make a large payment to them after ordering them to build a housing complex at a cost of 200 millions kyat and that its continuous delay has caused them great financial difficulties in their business.

“Punj Lloyd had ordered us to build a housing complex for its workers in Pyatae Village that is situated four-miles south of Kyaukpru at a cost of 200 million kyat. We have already built and handed over the complex to the company and its workers are living there now, but the company has paid only 40 million kyat and is still yet to pay the remaining 160 millions kyat, this has caused great financial difficulties for us in our businesses”, said the contractor.

He said they have requested many times for them to pay the outstanding money because of their financial difficulties, but the company has still declined to pay them with the reason that it has not received the money from its central office.

“The [company officials] gave us many reasons for their delay whenever we went and asked for the money to be paid. We do not know how to convince them of our difficulties and it is also difficult for us to take legal action against them because the Burmese authorities are protecting them in all matters”, he said.

A local truck owner also said the Indian company has been behaving in a similar fashion to the truck owners in the area as well. The company usually hires the local trucks for transporting their construction materials, but it never pay the transportation fares as per its promise after the job is done.

“There are so many truck owners who are owed respective debts from the Indian company in our area now. We never thought that such a big foreign company would behave to us like this and we completed our jobs based just on a verbal promise without making a contract. When we complained of the matter to our law enforcers, they also threatened us that we would be troubled if we sue the foreign company without concrete evidence”, said the truck owner.

According to the sources, the Indian company has perpetuated such violations on local businesses or peoples by taking advantage of the situation, in which the Burmese regime disregards the local rights or benefits in the Shwe Gas Project and it colludes with the foreign companies working on the project for their mutual benefit.

The local people have been suffering from various rights violations that include land confiscations and forced relocations since the project was started in their area.

Arakanese in Thailand Hold Ceremony to Reinvigorate their Patriotism

Dhaka: Arakanese in Thailand held a joint public ceremony and lecture on Arakan history and presented an award to a patriotic musician on 19 February in a Buddhist monastery in southern Thailand with the aim of improving patriotic morale among the younger Arakanese generation.

The ceremony was titled, “The public lecture on Arakanese history by prominent historian Professor Aye Chan and the honoring of patriotic musician Win Ko Khine”. It was opened with a religious sermon and traditional cultural events.

U Htay Win, editor of the Arakan National Newspaper and the leading organizer of the ceremony, told Narinjara that the ceremony was held with nationalistic people of Arakan in order to uplift morale and patriotism among the younger Arakanese generation.

“The ceremony and public lecture on Arakan history was held by our well-regarded historian Dr. Aye Chan, and we awarded the honorary prize of ‘Brilliant Star’ to our popular musician Ko Win Ko Khine who has been selflessly composing and singing our patriotic songs for more than 20 years so that our younger Arakanese generation may learn their native history and emulate those Arakanese personalities who have been bestowing their selfless service to the cause of Arakan,” said U Htay Win.

He said the ceremony was very lively with over 2,000 young Arakanese migrant workers attending the ceremony in Thailand in the town of Maha Chai.

While speaking to Narinjara, Dr. Aye Chan said, “I feel very proud of our people in Thailand who made this kind of ceremony possible because it is very necessary for our people. Without the knowledge of our own history, our people would not know what to do with their future, so I would like to urge our Arakanese people at home and abroad as well to hold such ceremonies in order to keep our patriotism alive.”

Ko Win Ko Khine said on receiving the award during the ceremony that he felt much more profoundly than words of gratitude and pleasure he expressed for the prize awarded by his compatriot Arakanese for his songs.

It was also learnt that the audiences in the ceremony were also greatly impressed with Dr. Aye Chan’s lecture on Arakanese history and presented their respective gifts and respect to him before concluding the ceremony.

Honorary ceremony held for political prisoners in Sittwe

Sittwe: An honorary reception ceremony for Rammarwady Ashin Pinnyasara and other political prisoners who were recently released from prison was held on 20 February in Sittwe, the capital town in Arakan State.

The ceremony was held in the head office of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party and the spokesperson of the party U Khine Pray Soe said the ceremony was held to spotlight the fact amongst the Arakanese people that the prisoners of conscience are admirable people who sacrifice their lives for the interests of their people and country.

“The prisoners of conscience or political prisoners are the ones who are jailed for their selfless services to the well-being of their people and country, but most of the people in our society keep away from them generally fearing they are just prisoners. That is the reason why we hold this ceremony to receive and honour them, our aim being to spotlight the fact that they are good people and worthy of social recognition”, said U Khine Pray Soe.

He said the ceremony was organized jointly by his party and local young activists in Sittwe.

Ko Kaung San, a recently released political prisoner, said Rammarwady Ashin Pinnyasara returned to Sittwe on the day of the ceremony and the participants along with the political prisoners received him at the port of the Malikha express vessel and accompanied him to the ceremony at the RNDP office.

“We received the venerable monk at the port of the Malikha express vessel when he came back to Sittwe and we walked from the port to the RNDP office accompanying him. Many people were wearing headbands and standing on the side of the roads greeting him and shouting their good wishes for him”, said Ko Kaung San.

U Khine Pray Soe, the secretary of the RNDP in Sittwe, U Aung Won, one of the RNDP’s MP from Mraybon Township, U Aung Hla Thein, a well-known historian, and Daw Aye Nu Sein, the lawyer of the monk, were said to have lead the reception team for Ashin Pinnyasara.

Ashin Pinnyasara delivered a speech on his experiences in prison while U Khine Pray Soe and the well-known Arakanese writer Thu Mrat Maha Aung Mray also addressed the crowd with their respective speeches on the lives of political prisoners at the reception ceremony.

The personnel of the special police branch and the military intelligence closely watched the ceremony, but they did not cause any disturbance.

It is also learnt that Rammarwady Ashin Pinnyasara will stay temporarily in the Thatdhamma Guru Pathein Monastery in Sittwe as his monastery cum orphanage is still shut down, as it has been by the authorities since he was arrested in 2010.

Burmese Regime Suspends Hydropower Project in Arakan

Buthidaung: The Burmese regime has suspended its main hydropower project that was planned to be constructed at the Saidin Waterfall in Buthidaung Township in northern Arakan State, shattering the long-held hope of electrical power in the region, report local residents and officials.

Sai Din waterfall

 

One local resident who had been following the power project told Narinjara that the project has had no progress and is currently suspended.

“We have heard so many big words about the proposed hydropower project at Saidin Waterfall from the successive Burmese regimes, but we have not found any progress being made for the project yet,” said the resident, adding, “When we inquired about the project, a responsible official told us that the project is currently stopped because the government is planning to build the project in partnership with a Chinese company and it will start again after the company has surveyed the proposed site.”

The resident said the official newspapers during the late reign of the SPDC regime had given extensive coverage on the hydropower project at Saidin, citing senior regime officials that the project was about to be implemented, but in reality it is far from practical implementation.

“The current president, U Thein Sein, visited and inspected the proposed site of the project when he was the prime minister of the by-gone military regime, and the other senior officials of the regime such as the minister of electrical power, U Zaw Min, and the minister of construction, U Khin Maung Myint, had also done the same on the project. Then we though that the project would really materialize, but nothing practical has come about and the project is still as it was before,” said the resident.

A junior government engineer from Buthidaung who is appointed to the project also confirmed that it is temporarily suspended due to a shortage of government funds. He declined to disclose his name publicly in the media.

According to local residents, the Saidin hydropower project has been their hope for sufficient electrical power in their region through the ages because they have been suffering from constant power shortages and rising costs for usage. Electricity is still being rationed for an average of two hours a day, and is only available in the main towns of their region. Residents have to pay 500 Kyat for one unit of electricity, a price twenty times higher than what is charged in the regions of central Burma.

This project was first proposed in 1954, but it was suspended in 1957 by the U Nu led Burmese parliamentary regime following an incident in which two foreign engineers were killed while surveying the proposed project site. There followed a back-and-forth of blame between the Burmese regime and the rebel forces of the Burmese communist party over the killing of those foreign engineers, but many Arakanese felt the incident was planned by the regime to provide an excuse to to suspend the project because it had no interest in developing Arakan State.

The Burmese military regime known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council also announced after taking power in 1988 that it would implement the long-abandoned project under the project name, “Saidin Hydropower Project, the Project to Illuminate the Whole of Arakan State with Electrical Lights”, but it later suspended the project without reason. The main office that had been opened for the project in Sittwe has finally become a pub.

After renaming the SLORC as the “State Peace and Development Council,” the Burmese regime spread propaganda about constructing the project again through its media mouthpieces, but now again the project has been suspended after power was handed over to the ostensibly civilian regime led by President U Thein Sein, who also served as the prime minister of the SPDC regime.

It has been 64 years already since Burma gained independence, but Arakan State in western Burma is still being neglected in development of the national power grid by successive Burmese regimes, and is still dependent on electricity generated by diesel and chaff generators. As a result the region is underdeveloped in all sectors. According to an official survey report, the Saidin is one of the largest waterfalls in Burma and has a capacity to produce 70 MW of electricity.

Arakan State Parliament set to resume Today

Sittwe: The regular session of the Arakan State Parliament is set to resume from 22 February, as announced by the Arakan State Parliament Committee, said U Aung Mra Kyaw, a legislator representing Sittwe, the capital of Arakan.

He said that he has received a letter from the head of the Arakan State Parliament and the parliament will resume from 22 February 2012.

‘The parliamentary body of Arakan State has sent invitation letters to all legislators in the state to join the session on 22 February” he said.

The parliamentary regular session is to be resumed after an emergency session which convened on 30 June.

“The parliament will resume at 10:00 am, we are preparing my presentation to the parliament, but the session will be mostly related to our people affairs,” he said, but not disclose details about his presentation for the parliament.

There are nearly 50 legislators in the Arakan State Parliament, but most are from the government-backed party and the army.

Low capacity vessels to increase trade between Burma and Bangladesh

Burma and Bangladesh have agreed to use small vessels between the two countries in order to boost bilateral trade, according to a report in the Bangladesh media.

The report said that the two neighbours reached an agreement in this regard at a recent meeting held in Rangoon where delegations from both countries attended.

However the agreement between the two neighbours is still under process, and it is expected to be signed next month when Burmese president Thein Sein is expected to arrive in Bangladesh for a three day visit to discuss bilateral issues including trade.

After the signing of the agreement, the vessels which have capacities of carrying below 6,000 tonnes of goods, would be used between the two countries. Burma and Bangladesh and will declare three ‘ports of call’ on their respective sides after signing the agreement.

For Burma’s side, Sittwe, Pathein and Rangoon are expected to be used as harbors while Kulana, Chittagon and Taknaf will be used on Bangladesh’s side.

The report said that Bangladesh can reach the markets of Thailand, China, Malaysia through Burma after starting the use of small vessels between the countries.

160 Burmese Suffer Forced Hard Labor in Kuwait

Dhaka: 160 Burmese have been suffering from great trouble in Kuwait as their employer has forced to do hard labor in the desert after bringing them to the country on the promise of carpentry jobs, according to a letter sent by a fellow migrant worker.

The letter said they were brought to Kuwait by Shwe In-arr, a Burmese labor company, in October 2011 on the promise of carpentry jobs, but after arriving they had their official work permits taken and held, and have been sent into the desert and forced to work excavating earth there .

“They are now in great trouble because they have to do the job of digging earth in the desert, even though they have come here for the carpentry jobs as promised by their labor company. They informed that they have to dig pits as tall as two men’s heights in the desert everyday without getting leave or holiday since they arrived here,” the sender of the letter told Narinjara over the phone.

He added that they were promised by the Shwe In-arr Company that they would be paid at least 5 to 6 lakh Kyat per month for any job in Kuwait, but they have been paid only about 3 lakh Kyat per month for their hard labor in the desert in the country.

“The worst things they have been suffering from their job is they can not leave or run away from their job and have no rights to undergo treatment in the hospital whenever they fall sick because their employer has control of their official permits for staying and working in the country,” he said.

He said that their payments are also cut by their employer for any day they cannot work because of illness.

According to him, they have been employed by Korea’s company to dig holes in the desert in Kuwait through the Shwe In-arr Company that bases its main office in the FMI in Hlinetharyar in Rangoon, and has also sent of its officials – Min Thu – to supervise them for their work for Samsung.

He said 30 of them are from Kyaukpru Township in Arakan State and they had worked for the Shwe In-arr company as carpenters when employed by them in the area, and the company sent them to Kuwait on promises of similar carpentry jobs and high wages, but they are now stranded with difficulties and trouble in Kuwait without any opportunity to return to their homeland.

Peace talks offered to NUPA

Dhaka: The Burmese regime led by U Thein Sein has reportedly offered peace talks to the National United Party of Arakan, one of the Arakanese armed groups fighting against the Burmese regime for freedom and democracy in Arakan State.

National United Party of Arakan flag

U Aung Min, the minister of rail transportation and the leader of the union-level peacemaking group of the regime, said his group have already asked the NUPA to hold peace talks, reported the official Burmese newspaper “Kyemon” in its publication on the 16th of February.

He stated his government’s offer to negotiate with the NUPA while he was answering questions asked by U Nyan Linn, the representative of constituency no. 3 of Irrawaddy Division, on the 4th day of the third regular session of national parliament, which were concerned with peace procedures with the ethnic armed groups in the country.

He said to parliament that his group has already held peace talks and signed agreements with 9 of the 11 ethnic armed groups of the United Nationalities Federal Council and are connected to the two remaining groups of the council— the National United Party of Arakan and the Lahu Democratic Union— for peace talks.

The NUPA is one of the three Arakanese armed groups operating on the western Burmese border and was founded by the late Bo Raza, the Chief of the Arakan Army, after merging a number of Arakanese groups on the border. It was the strongest Arakanese armed group on the western frontier, but was weakened after Bo Raza and five other top leaders of the group were killed and some of its forces were jailed by India in 1998.