BANGKOK, June 23 -- Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations want to see a clear time frame for the repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, Thailand's foreign minister said Saturday.
Speaking after a meeting of the ministers in Bangkok, Don Pramudwinai, representing the host country, said that ASEAN wants Myanmar and Bangladesh to discuss the issue and set a timeline for the return of the refugees. Don added that Myanmar informed ASEAN about the issuance of identification cards to the refugees to identify them when they return to Rakhine State. "ASEAN recognizes the intention of Myanmar to solve this issue and will help promote the relevant process and see the repatriation begins," he said. He noted that the related parties have to build trust among the refugees, assuring them that they will live in Rakhine State with safety. Although the grouping has a policy of non-interference in members' internal affairs, the Rohingya issue has been fixed on the agenda of relevant meetings since 2017, when the Myanmar military clashed with armed Rohingya groups, drawing criticism from the international community. More than 720,000 Rohingya have fled Rakhine since August last year amid allegations of atrocities committed by the security forces. Their repatriation from sprawling camps in neighboring Bangladesh has been delayed as they are not confident in their safety after returning home. At their meeting, the ministers also renamed the grouping's Indo-Pacific outlook as the "ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific." The outlook, which aims to ensure that ASEAN plays a "central and strategic role" in the evolving regional architecture, will be adopted by the leaders on Sunday. Regarding a plan to invite North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to the 30th Commemorative Summit between ASEAN and South Korea later this year in Busan, Don said that ASEAN has no problem if South Korea extends an invitation to Kim.
In the weekend summit of the ASEAN leaders, the Rohingya crisis as well as the South China Sea situation are set to figure highly in their talks. Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi will be attending.
China, which claims almost the entire South China Sea, has reclaimed a number of the disputed reefs and fortified them with military features over the past few years. Laos and Cambodia, which have strong economic ties with China, have a more pro-Beijing stance on the issue. In contrast, Vietnam, which has competing claims with China, takes a harder line on Beijing's assertiveness in regional waters. To what extent the leaders can unite against China's land reclamation and militarization activities in the South China Sea will be closely watched. On Saturday, the leaders of the 10-member grouping are scheduled to meet with representatives of various groups such as the ASEAN Inter-parliamentary Assembly and ASEAN Business Advisory Council, to be followed by a plenary session focusing on internal cooperation. A gala dinner will later be held at the Athenee Hotel, the summit venue. The opening ceremony will take place on Sunday, followed by a leaders' retreat. Also Saturday, ASEAN economic ministers agreed at a meeting on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership to continue efforts toward concluding negotiations on the Asia-wide free trade deal involving 16 countries by November.
"The ASEAN economic ministers urge and assign officials to exert efforts to drive the negotiations in various topics under the RCEP such as rule of origins, investment in order to find an ASEAN stance before meeting with the six partners of ASEAN," Auramon Supthaweethum, director general of the Thai Trade Negotiations Department, told Kyodo News. She was referring to upcoming RCEP Trade Negotiations Committee meetings in Australia and China. The RCEP is being negotiated among the 10-member ASEAN, Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam.
YANGON, May 7 -- Two Reuters journalists, jailed in Myanmar after being convicted of breaking the Official Secrets Act, have been freed after more than 500 days behind bars.
The two reporters, Wa Lone, 33, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, were convicted in September and sentenced to seven years in jail in a case that raised questions about Myanmar's progress towards democracy and sparked an outcry from diplomats and human rights advocates. "I am a journalist and I am going to continue," Wa Lone told a crowd of reporters outside the Insein prison in Yangon. "I can't wait to go to my newsroom." Earlier on Tuesday, Myanmar said it will release 6,520 prisoners in an amnesty, according to a statement from the president's office.
President Win Myint pardoned thousands of prisoners in two mass amnesties last month. It is customary in Myanmar for authorities to free prisoners around the time of the traditional New Year, which began on April 17. "We are enormously pleased that Myanmar has released our courageous reporters," Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen Adler said in a statement. "Since their arrests 511 days ago, they have become symbols of the importance of press freedom around the world. We welcome their return." Reuters has said the two men did not commit any crime and had called for their release. Before their arrest in December 2017, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had been working on an investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces and Buddhist civilians in western Myanmar's Rakhine State during an army crackdown that began in August 2017. The operation sent more than 730,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh, according to the United Nations' estimates. The report the two men authored, featuring testimony from perpetrators, witnesses and families of the victims, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting in May, adding to a number of accolades received by the pair for their journalism.
A total of 54 staff from two private companies were buried under a mound of mining waste along with 40 machines and vehicles, Tin Soe, a local politician told the Reuters news agency. They won’t survive. It is not possible because they are buried under mud,” Tin Soe told Reuters by phone. "It is very difficult to retrieve the bodies." "Three dead bodies have been recovered from the mud," Kyaw Swa Aung, the township's administrator told the Anadolu news agency, adding that a search and rescue operation was ongoing. At least 20 people have been killed so far this year in collapses and landslides at mining sites, according to the Hpakant Township office.
Centre of Jade mining
Most of the victims were identified as internal migrant workers who scavenge jade or pieces of the precious stones left over from company mining operations. Hpakant area is the centre of the country’s jade mining industry and produces some of the best-quality jade in the world. According to environmental advocacy group Global Witness, jade production in Myanmar was worth around $31bn in 2014. The country's lucrative jade industry is dominated by companies and businessmen linked to leaders of the previous military government.
BANGKOK, April 16 -- Two jailed reporters for the Reuters news agency have won the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting for revealing the massacre of 10 Rohingya men by Buddhist villagers and Myanmar security forces.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who have been jailed for 490 days in Myanmar for their role in uncovering the killings, won the prestigious award for international reporting on Monday. They were arrested in December 2017 and are serving a seven-year sentence for violating the country's colonial Official Secrets Act. "I'm thrilled that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and their colleagues have been recognised for their extraordinary, courageous coverage," Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J Adler said. "I remain deeply distressed, however, that our brave reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are still behind bars."
Thomson Reuters CEO Jim Smith said the news service "won't be truly celebrating until Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are free".
The honourees, both Myanmar citizens, found a mass grave filled with bones sticking out of the ground. They went on to gather testimony from perpetrators, witnesses and families of victims. Journalists Maggie Michael, Maad al-Zikry and Nariman El-Mofty of the Associated Press agency also won the same award for their coverage of famine and torture during Yemen's civil war. The Reuters staff bagged a second prize for photographs of Central American migrants seeking refuge in the United States. In other categories, coverage of mass shootings in the US and investigations into US President Donald Trump featured prominently. The Washington Post was a finalist for the public service medal for its coverage of the murder of Saudi journalist and Post columnist Jamal Khassoggi inside the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul.
BANGKOK, March 19 -- Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday opened the second Thai-Myanmar bridge across the Moei River.
The opening ceremony was held in the middle of the new bridge, which links Mae Sot district of Tak province and Myawaddy township in Myanmar. The completion of the new bridge showed the good ties between the two countries, and the relationship should last, Gen Prayut said. The bridge is part of the development of Thailand's East-West Economic Corridor and would boost economic development in Mae Sot and Myawaddy, and lead to other connecting transport projects, the prime minister said. The two national leaders posed for photos in the middle of the bridge and took the opportunity to discuss bilateral issues, including the problem of smoke-haze air pollution .
The 760-metre-long bridge is four lanes wide - two lanes in each direction. Thailand paid for the construction, about 3 billion baht. The project includes one-stop-service Thai and Myanmar border checkpoints. It was built to alleviate congestion on the first Thai-Myanmar friendship bridge, which is nearby. Officials expect the new bridge will help lift the value of bilateral border trade from the current 70-80 billion baht to 100 billion baht a year, and promote cross-border tourism.
YANGON, February 16 -- Myanmar's powerful army chief has given a rare foreign media interview to insist there was no "certain proof" the military had persecuted the country's stateless Rohingya Muslim community.
Around 740,000 Rohingya fled over the border into Bangladesh after a bloody military campaign in 2017. The UN condemned the crackdown as ethnic cleansing and investigators called for top military leaders, including Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, to be prosecuted for genocide. But the military has maintained its operations were justified to root out Rohingya insurgents following a series of deadly attacks on police posts and has denied nearly all allegations of wrongdoing.
In an interview Japan's Asahi Shimbun newspaper published Friday, Min Aung Hlaing doubled down on previous claims, arguing "there is no certain proof that the national army was involved in the persecution" of Rohingya. The army chief added that accusations the military committed atrocities "hurts the nation's dignity". Min Aung Hlaing rarely speaks to the press and has instead preferred to communicate over Facebook, but the social media giant kicked him off the platform last year for his role in stoking hate speech. His comments were at odds with testimony from Rohingya in the crowded, sprawling camps in Bangladesh. The refugees have recounted widespread murder, rape, torture and the burning of entire villages to the ground at the hands of Myanmar soldiers. A UN probe report released in September also outlined atrocities committed by the military in meticulous and searing detail. It said Myanmar's "clearance operations" were disproportionate to the insurgent attacks and cited prior troop deployments as evidence of premeditation.
Investigators called for Myanmar to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) but any road to prosecution would be long and fraught with political difficulties at the UN. Aung San Suu Kyi's civilian government remains in a fragile power-sharing agreement with the military, which holds three key ministries and a quarter of parliamentary seats.
Suu Kyi's international reputation lies in tatters for refusing to stand up for the Rohingya. In Myanmar, the Rohingya are widely seen as interlopers from Bangladesh and have been denied citizenship, rights and access to services for decades under what Amnesty International calls apartheid-like conditions.
NAYPYIDAW, JANUARY 3 -- Thailand deported over 70,000 undocumented Myanmar workers in 2018, the Myanmar labour attaché in Bangkok said in a statement on Wednesday.
Many of those deported voluntarily turned themselves into Thai immigration authorities in order to be transferred to the custody of the Myanmar government so their papers could be processed and their stay in Thailand legalized, the statement said. But some were caught during the crackdown by Thai authorities on illegal workers, it added.
“According to an agreement between the two governments, the workers would be allowed to return to Thailand to work once they receive their documents,” Myanmar labour attaché U San Maung Oo said on Wednesday. In 2018, 651 Myanmar migrant workers were transferred via the border crossing at Tachileik in Shan State, while 70,740 Myanmar workers were transferred via the border crossing at Myawaddy in Kayin State, and 3340 workers were transferred through Kawthoung township in Tanintharyi Region. The labour attaché office said 246 of these workers were victims of human trafficking.
Under Thai labour law, a foreign worker without a work permit faces a fine of 5000 (K239,181/US$155) to 50,000 baht, deportation, and a two-year ban from the kingdom.
Businesses that hire illegal migrants face a fine of 10,000 to 100,000 baht for each one they hire.
About 20,000 Myanmar workers leave for Thailand every month under the labour agreement between the two countries, not including those who enter Thailand illegally, according to Myanmar embassy officials and migrant rights activists in Thailand.
BANGKOK, December 24 -- Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, the two Reuters news agency journalists jailed while reporting on last year's Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, are set to appeal the decision on Monday.
The reporters were arrested in December 2017 and later sentenced to seven years in prison under the country's colonial-era Official Secrets Act for what prosecutors said was the possession of classified material on security operations. The duo - who have spent more than a year behind bars - pleaded not guilty, insisting that they had been framed by the police. Reuters also disputed the charge and said they were set up after probing the massacre of 10 Rohingya during a military crackdown that forced hundreds of thousands of people belonging to the long-persecuted, mostly Muslim minority to flee their homes in western Myanmar's Rakhine State for neighbouring Bangladesh. The ruling in September by a Yangon district court sparked international outcry and widespread condemnation.
Media advocates say the convictions sent a chilling message about investigating sensitive issues in Myanmar as it emerges from decades of military rule. But calls for the reporters' release have fallen flat inside Myanmar, with civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi saying in September that the jailing of the reporters had nothing to do with freedom of expression. She said they were not jailed because they were journalists. Outside Myanmar, Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, have been feted with a string of prestigious awards presented in their absence and hailed as heroes.
BANGKOK, December 19 -- Facebook has announced its third and biggest purge of military-linked accounts in Myanmar.
Where critics have charged the social network did too little to block inflammatory material that fuelled hatred, particularly against the Muslim Rohingya minority. Facebook in a press release posted online Wednesday says it has removed 425 Facebook Pages, 17 Facebook Groups, 135 Facebook accounts and 15 Instagram accounts in Myanmar for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behaviour',' meaning they misrepresented who was running the provocative accounts. Facebook alleges the military is behind the accounts.
Some 700,000 Rohingya fled their homes in western Myanmar since last year in response to a brutal counterinsurgency campaign by the military, which has been accused of massive human rights violations.
YANGON, December 8 -- A court in Myanmar’s restive Kachin state has jailed three activists for defaming the military, their lawyer said, as campaigners slammed the “chilling warning” the ruling sends to critical voices in the country.
Lum Zawng, Nang Pu and Zau Jet had helped organise an anti-war demonstration in April in the state capital Myitkyina to highlight the plight of thousands displaced by fighting between the military and ethnic Kachin insurgents. The youth leaders were sentenced on Friday to six months in prison and fined the equivalent of $320 each. Kachin is in the grip of one of the world’s longest-running civil wars, as rebels have clashed with the powerful military for six decades over autonomy, ethnic identity, drugs, jade and other natural resources in the country’s northeast. Fighting surged dramatically this year, forcing thousands to flee to camps in remote parts of the state with inadequate access to aid.
In late April, amid public anger over the fresh violence, the three youth leaders organised a peaceful protest demanding help for the people taking refuge in camps. It also sparked protests in Yangon and Mandalay in a rare show of solidarity. The defence told the court that the leaders had “no intention” of defaming the Tatmadaw, as the military is called, and were more concerned with the fate of displaced people, lawyer Doi Bu told AFP. “But the court viewed them as harming the Tatmadaw,” she said, adding that they plan to appeal on Monday. The European Union said it “deeply regrets” the court’s decision and called for the sentences to be reviewed.
Three other activists protested against the ruling by marching in front of the court, prompting police to charge them for “protesting without permission”. They were bailed and will face trial at a later date.
“These jail sentences reflect a pattern of continued attacks” against civil society speaking out against the military, said Amnesty International’s Tirana Hassan. “It sends a chilling warning to [anyone] who wants to tell the truth about the Myanmar military’s brutality in Kachin and northern Shan states.” Rights groups estimate more than 106,000 people languish in displacement camps across conflict-torn Kachin and Shan states.
Ethnic Kachin are mainly Christians in a nation that is overwhelmingly Buddhist. While international focus has been on the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine state, an army unit accused of atrocities against the Muslim minority group has been redeployed to Kachin — which experts say is an ominous sign for civilians.