Tag Archive for 'Burma'

The face of Buddhist terror: Myanmar bans Time issue

Time

Myanmar’s government has banned this week’s issue of Time magazine because of a cover story about a Buddhist monk accused of fueling recent religious violence in the country. State television announced that the decision was made “in order to prevent the recurrence of racial and religious riots.” More here in The Irrawady.

The story by Hannah Beech profiles the Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu who advocates social exclusion of the country’s minority Muslim population. Read AFP report here

YouTube video: Wirathu lashes out at Time magazine

Chief censor in Myanmar caps his red pen

Thomas Fuller in NYT:

His office was once the site of an interrogation center run by Japan’s feared military police during World War II. And that is how U Tint Swe got his nickname: the literary torturer.

 “We didn’t arrest or torture anyone, but we had to torture their writing,” Mr. Tint Swe said, his serious expression yielding to a faint smile.

 Mr. Tint Swe was Myanmar’s last censor in chief, the powerful arbiter of what the public would read — and what was deleted from official history.

 For nearly five decades, military governments here examined every book, every article, each illustration, photo or poem before printing. It was a crucial exercise for the military, which sought control over nearly every facet of citizens’ lives.

 The censorship office, known by the Orwellian title of Press Scrutiny and Registration Division, infuriated generations of authors. Censors returned manuscripts with red lines through entire passages. Often they banned books or articles altogether. Any whiff of dissent toward the military or suggestion of government corruption was removed. Burma, the old name of the country, was deleted in favor of Myanmar, the name preferred by the military junta. More:

A reporter ‘friends’ his censor

Thomas Fuller in IHT:

I wandered into the room where foreign newspapers are “scrutinized” and was greeted effusively by Khaing Thazin Htwe, a smiling young woman with long hair and bangs in a pretty white embroidered shirt.

She was the person responsible for reading the IHT every day, paying special attention to the articles on Myanmar — my articles.

It was a surreal, Wizard of Oz moment. I had expected to peer behind the curtain and see an ill-tempered older man with thick glasses, a green eyeshade and a permanent scowl.

But Ms. Khaing Thazin Htwe could not have been more friendly and earnest. Her purple and turquoise name card was decorated with a heart. We chatted like old pals and exchanged Facebook information.

I told her I would friend her. More:

Burma abolishes pre-censorship of media. What does it really mean?

In The Irrawady:

The decision of the Burmese government on Monday to abolish the pre-censorship of articles in the national media (read more here) has received a mixed response. The Irrawaddy examines the consequences of this landmark move.

What did the PSRD say to editors?

The Burmese government told editors of weekly journals on Monday that, effective immediately, their outlets “no longer need to pass the censorship board.” Tint Swe, the head of Burma’s Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD), added that the easing of restrictions was the result of policy changes within the Ministry of Information.

So time to congratulate journalists in Burma?

Journalists who faced pressure and imprisonment in Burma cautiously welcomed the announcement that they will no longer be required to submit articles to the country’s draconian censorship board. But they are very aware that “Big Brother” is still there to monitor and watch.

The move is not enough to restore media freedom. However, it is safe to say that the government has made a small concession after shutting down local journals and facing pressure and street protest from journalists. More:

A Burmese tug of words

Swe Win, a freelance journalist based in Yangon, in NYT:

Yangon, Myanmar — Once again a government body here has chided Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for calling the country Burma during her trips to Thailand and Europe. Say Myanmar, she was told, as is called for by the 2008 Constitution.

This tug of words has been going on for decades. To some it matters because it symbolizes the differences between the generals who have long ruled the country and those who resist them, but it’s also kind of pointless. The truth is neither name is good enough.

Myanmar is a direct pronunciation in English of the country’s official Burmese name Myanma — meaning fast and strong people — which dates back to the 12th century. During British colonial rule, from 1885 to 1948, the country was known as Burma (from the Burmese Bamar). During the four decades after independence, a funny situation developed: though in Burmese the country’s name reverted to Myanmar (to mark a break from the colonial period), in English the country was called the Union of Burma and then, after 1974, the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma.

Burma only became Myanmar in English, too, by order of the military rulers in 1989, a year after a crackdown on a democratic uprising. Eager to cast themselves as true nationalists, the generals passed the Adaptation of Expression Law, amending all English names in conformity with Burmese pronunciation. Rangoon became Yangon, and the central coastal town Moulmein, where begins Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Mandalay,” became Mawlamyine. More:

Aung San Suu Kyi, a true Gandhian

Ramachandra Guha in The Telegraph:

The comparison is natural, not forced. As I see it, there are at least six respects in which Suu Kyi’s career parallels that of the Mahatma: 1. a leavening of politics with morality, which comes in both cases from a religious faith, which is devout without being dogmatic; 2. a commitment to non-violence in word and in deed; 3. a willingness to reach out to one’s rivals and opponents; 4. an openness to ideas and innovations from other cultures; 5. an utter fearlessness, with death holding no dangers for them; 6. great personal charm, a feature of which is a sense of humour.

However, while Aung San Suu Kyi can certainly be compared to Gandhi, she cannot (as she perhaps would be the first to acknowledge) be equated to him. Gandhi came first, crafting the techniques of non-violent resistance of which Martin Luther King, the Dalai Lama, and Aung San Suu Kyi have been such outstanding exemplars. Besides, Gandhi’s range of interests (and obsessions) was far greater.

India is much larger than Burma, and much more diverse in linguistic and religious terms. Gandhi lived and died for Hindu-Muslim harmony, but we know little of how Suu Kyi intends to stem Budddhist chauvinism in Myanmar by giving greater respect to Muslims, tribals and other minorities. India is a far more hierarchical society than Myanmar; so can be no real parallel in Suu Kyi’s life to Gandhi’s lifelong struggle against untouchability. And Gandhi was also a precocious environmentalist.

That said, Suu Kyi is far closer to Gandhi, and a much better Gandhian, than any Indian now living. More

A Nepal poppy and a sneezing monkey among top 10 new species

The International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University and a committee of scientists from around the world announced their picks for the top 10 new species described in 2011. [via a Tweet by Amitav Ghosh, author of Sea of Poppies]:

Common Name: Nepalese Autumn Poppy

Family: Papaveraceae

How it made the Top 10: Many newly discovered species are small in size or secretive in habits, but not all. This beautiful and vibrantly colored poppy has remained unknown to science until now. This is no doubt due in part to the extreme environment where the flower lives at an elevation of 10,827 to 13,780 feet in central Nepal. It is also evidence of the paucity of botanists studying the Asian flora as specimens of Meconopsis autumnalis had been collected twice before, although not recognized as new — first in 1962 by the storied Himalayan plant hunter Adam Stainton and again in 1994 by staff of the University of Tokyo’s Department of Plant Resources. The recent rediscovery of the poppy in the field was made by intrepid botanists collecting plants miles from human habitation in heavy monsoon rains.  More: and here

… and a snub-nosed monkey from Myanmar (Burma) that sneezes when it rains

Name: Rhinopithecus strykeri

Common Name: Sneezing Monkey

Family: Cercopithecidae

How it made the Top 10: Since 2000, the number of mammals discovered each year only averages about 36 so it was nothing to sneeze at when a new primate came to the attention of scientists who were conducting a gibbon survey in the high mountains of Myanmar (formerly Burma). Rhinopithecus strykeri is the first snub-nosed monkey to be reported from Myanmar and is believed to be Critically Endangered. It is distinctive for its mostly black fur and white beard and for sneezing when it rains – although it tries to avoid dripping rainwater in its turned up nose by sitting with its head between its legs. While conducting interviews for the Hoolock Gibbon Status Review, hunters and villagers told the survey team of scientists that they could find this snub-nosed monkey by waiting until it rained and listening for sneezes in the trees. We say congratulations… and Gesundheit.

More here and here

 

No country to call home

Long persecuted in their native land, the stateless Rohingya have sought sanctuary across the globe. In Mother Jones magazine, Magnum photographer Saiful Huq Omi documents their predicament.

Saiful Huq Omi, a photographer based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, first focused on Burma’s Rohingya refugees in 2009, when he began documenting their lives in Bangladesh, Malaysia, and the United Kingdom. The Rohingya—an ethnic, religious, and linguistic minority from Burma’s northern Rakhine State—have been persecuted for decades; nearly a million of them are estimated to reside in Burma, while another half million have sought refuge in Bangladesh. Smaller populations have fled to other countries.

The 1982 Citizenship Law of Burma stripped the Rohingya of their nationality, making them legally stateless. As Amal de Chickera, the head of the Statelessness and Nationality Projects for the Equal Rights Trust, explained in a recent conversation with Omi: “While many individual citizens of Burma experience human rights violations, the Rohingya are specifically targeted and face discrimination as a group. Outside of Burma most Rohingya are irregular migrants with no legal status. Because they are stateless they have to travel illegally, and are thus targeted and often become victims of arbitrary detention, deportation, extortion, trafficking, and smuggling.” more

A girl named Suu

Malavika Karlekar remembers ‘The Lady’ she knew. In Outlook:

When a childhood friend is the face of a movement for democracy in a country ruled by a junta, time can only partially dim, not ever erase, one’s memories of her. Among other things, I remember Aung San Suu Kyi’s ready wit. Some years ago, I chanced upon a picture postcard from her marked “Oxford, 1979”. “Doesn’t the gargoyle on the New College bell tower look like Mr X?” she’d asked, referring to an Economics don, her tutor who’d been quite taken by her Oriental charm. I could almost hear her giggle; she saw humour in things we found quotidian. The quality surely emboldened her in the dark years.

As schoolgirls at Delhi’s Convent of Jesus and Mary in the last years of the Nehruvian era, we were ingenues, sheltered from the real world. Suu’s mother, the gracious Daw Khin Kyi (Madame Aung San), Burma’s ambassador to India at the time, would brook no indiscipline. Sloppiness or slouching was out. For habitual loungers to whom divans with bolsters signified ultimate bliss, Suu’s upright posture was a constant reminder of how young ladies should conduct themselves. Of course, the strict regimen of a convent with its insistence on well-starched divided skirts (what if ordinary skirts billowed in the wind?) just that one inch above the knees, Angelus at noon and learning by rote only reinforced familial values of discipline and order. More:

A most unlikely liberator in Myanmar

Thomas Fuller on U Thein Sein in NYT:

For most of his career he was a loyal apparatchik in one of the world’s most brutal military regimes. But in the 12 months since he became president of Myanmar, U Thein Sein has been leading this country of 55 million down a radical path from dictatorship to democracy, vowing, as he told the nation earlier this month, to “root out the evil legacies deeply entrenched in our society.”

There are no pat answers as to why Mr. Thein Sein, a bespectacled and bookish 66-year-old with a sphinxlike smile, decided to shake up one of Asia’s poorest and most hermetic countries. And little has been published about the president, a former general who has been called Myanmar’s Mikhail Gorbachev, perhaps prematurely given the fragility of reforms.

But a trip to Kyonku, his birthplace, located in a remote corner of the country, offers some insights into his character and clues as to what prompted him to embark on such an ambitious reform program.

Kyonku is a small village in the delta of the Irrawaddy River, an area connected by a vast network of canals, inlets and rivers.

Four years ago, Mr. Thein Sein returned to the delta after a cyclone swept in from the Indian Ocean and devastated the area. Cylone Nargis was by far Myanmar’s worst natural disaster, killing more than 130,000 people and transforming the fertile countryside of Mr. Thein Sein’s childhood into a landscape of flattened villages and bloated bodies bobbing downstream. More:

 

Towards a Burmese spring

Larry Jagan in Himal Southasian:

Change is in the air in Burma, according to many in Rangoon. Though how long until the winds shift remains an open question. ‘There’s definitely a Burmese Spring here,’ said a senior member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), on condition of anonymity. ‘But whether it’s only an illusion, a false dawn as we have had many times before, only time will tell.’ Nonetheless, many in the pro-democracy movement within Burma are optimistic, believing that the new president, Thein Sein, is serious about economic and political change. Critically, this is a process that seems to include Suu Kyi herself, though for the moment it is very unclear what role she may play.

Recent months have seen the continual unveiling of signs that the country’s new quasi-civilian government is trying to pursue a genuine transition to democracy of some sort. The release of more than 200 political prisoners, including the renowned comedian Zarganar, was one of the most recent, and most significant, signals that the new government is serious about political reform. According to a senior government minister on condition of anonymity, preparations are underway for the release of at least 200 more political detainees as well.

Taken together, the movements made in the year since the new government was formed strike many as significant – though with caveats. ‘There is enough to make us cautiously optimistic, with the stress on optimistic,’ Steve Marshall, the head of the International Labour Organisation in Rangoon, told this writer recently. Almost the exact same tone has been struck by Kurt Campbell, the US State Department official in charge of the region. ‘I think it would be fair to say that winds of change are clearly blowing through Burma,’ he said in Bangkok in October. ‘The extent of it is still unclear, but everyone who’s gone there recognises that there are changes.’ More:

Aung San Suu Kyi’s party to run in Burma elections

In The Independent:

Myanmar’s main opposition party led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi decided today to rejoin politics and register for future elections, signaling its confidence in recent reforms by the military-aligned government.

The National League for Democracy party “has unanimously decided to reregister as a political party … and will run in the elections,” it said in a statement issued at the end of a meeting of senior members from across the country.

Some joyous members broke into a dance as the announcement was made.

“What we are doing now involves a lot of risk but it is time to take the risk because in politics there is no 100 percent assurance of success,” Suu Kyi told them. More:

From prisoner to future president?

Pariah regime in China’s shadow

In Wall Street Journal, Patrick Barta gets a rare interview with Myanmar’s information and culture minister who speaks of his country’s expanded reforms and ongoing sanctions.

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar—Myanmar’s government, in the first extended interview with a major Western news organization in years, called for the U.S. to recognize its recent string of reforms and abandon economic sanctions that is says are hurting its ability to open up further.

The interview, conducted by the country’s information and culture minister flanked by a phalanx of advisers and officials, comes as U.S. President Barack Obama and Asian leaders head to Indonesia for a summit at which Myanmar is seeking to boost its international reputation after decades of tough military rule.

Myanmar has embarked on an “irreversible” reform process, said the minister, U Kyaw Hsan, speaking for the government. He blamed U.S. sanctions for delaying the country’s development and said they made Myanmar more reliant on Chinese companies. “When we are striving for development, we cannot be choosers—we have accepted what is best for the country,” he said. more

A secret interview with The Lady

One year ago, the world’s best-known democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in Burma, where she had spent 15 of the last 21 years. As she starts making trips outside Rangoon and meeting government officials, Ed Caesar secretly meets with her, and asks if this brutal regime has really taken steps on the road to freedom. From Dazed Digital.

Freedom means something different to Aung San Suu Kyi than it might to you or me. Imagine you had been placed under house arrest for 15 of the last 21 years – would you consider yourself free? How about if, since being released in November last year, you had been placed under constant surveillance, and had your travel restricted by the ruling military government – the same government you had watched plunder your country’s natural resources for political gain, imprison political enemies, and ethnically cleanse troublesome minorities while you were powerless to influence events? How about if your English husband had died without you by his side because he was refused a visa, and you knew that if you left the country to be with him you might never have been able to return? Would you feel at liberty? Your answer, almost certainly, would be no.

Aung San Suu Kyi would politely disagree. “After I was released, people used to keep asking me, ‘What is it like to be free?’” she tells me, in her forthright, plummy English. “And it was very difficult for me to answer – I always felt free. As far as my state of mind was concerned, I didn’t feel any different… People ask me about what sacrifices I’ve made and I always answer that I’ve made no sacrifices – I’ve made choices. I don’t get angry. I wasn’t sacrificing myself for anybody. Really, it was a choice I made in accordance with what I believed.”

To most people, this might seem like inhuman stoicism. Aung San Suu Kyi, plainly, is not most people.

Our interview takes place in Rangoon in late July, in the tumbledown two-storey headquarters of the National League For Democracy, the political party Aung San Suu Kyi co-founded in 1988. Downstairs, a group of activists are listening to a lecture on political science. Upstairs, in a cool, clean office, The Lady – as she is known to her supporters – receives guests. Aung San Suu Kyi is a striking woman. Small and delicate as a sparrow, she is still, at 66, arrestingly beautiful. When we meet, she is wearing a grey, long-sleeved top with a floral print, a black skirt and no shoes. Her mahogany hair is tied back with green and white flowers. And, apart from her wide, dancing, chestnut eyes, she possesses a stillness that proves quite disarming.

This ability to project serenity is, as I would discover, a large part of her appeal. On the last day of my stay in Rangoon, I asked a young man who I knew to be a NLD supporter why he admired Aung San Suu Kyi so much. He said that when he saw her face, he felt “relaxed”. more

Burma’s winds of change

From Asia Sentinel:

While Burma’s civilian government appears willing to at least observe the veneer of democracy, hardliners and some former top generals are uneasy with the extent and pace of change and are threatening to force another military coup, diplomatic sources in Rangoon say.

The government, for the first time since the military seized power more than 20 years ago, is making a concerted effort to tackle the country’s poverty. The newly elected parliament – though many MPs owe their seats to a manipulated vote last November — is beginning to function.

Last week’s executive decision by president Thein Sein to suspend construction on the controversial Myitsone dam in Kachin state near the border with China is another example of the government’s responsiveness to the wishes of the people, according to a senior Burmese government official. And now the government seems poised to release political prisoners.

The key to change is Thein Sein’s willingness to accommodate the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. This rapprochement, after their first meeting some seven weeks ago — seems to have set a new tone. More:

Land of shadows

As it emerges from isolation, the nation of Myanmar is caught between repression and reform, dark and light, writes Brook Larmer in National Geographic

It’s the magic hour in Yangon, when the last rays of sunlight, softer, cooler now, bathe the crumbling downtown in a golden glow, beckoning residents out into the streets. Giggling children race to buy fresh sugarcane juice. Women with cheeks daubed with a paste made of bark—the alluring Burmese sunblock—haggle with a fishmonger. In the street, bare-chested teenage boys in a circle play a rowdy game of chinlon, a sort of acrobatic Hacky Sack, while potbellied men in T-shirts and longyi, the traditional Burmese sarong, sit on the sidewalk chewing red wads of betel nut.

The carnival-like atmosphere doesn’t last. Night falls fast in the tropics, and the power shortages that plague Myanmar give the sudden transition a spooky edge. A decaying colonial-era government building goes black. The alleyway next door emits the bluish glow of television sets powered by portable generators. Under the trees the vendors are invisible, but candles illuminate their wares: circles of silvery fish, clusters of purple banana flowers, stacks of betel leaves. And lined up in a blue wooden case, pirated DVDs of American movies and music.

“Welcome to the Hotel California,” calls out a voice from the shadows in perfect English. Three young men sit on plastic stools in the street, laughing at the greeting. The DVD vendor, a skinny 29-year-old with wire-rimmed glasses and a pink button-down shirt, leaps up with a smile. Though his schooling ended in fourth grade, he speaks English in an eruption of phrases gleaned from Hollywood movies and 1950s grammar books. Meeting an American, he says, makes him feel “over the moon, on cloud nine, pleased as punch.” more

Burma – 2011′s hippest holiday destination

Phoebe Kennedy in The Independent:

Despite the lure of its gleaming pagodas, fabled cities and pristine beaches, military-ruled Burma has been off the tourist map for years, shunned by conscientious travellers who feared that visiting the country would help only to prop up one of the world’s most oppressive dictatorships. But with the release late last year of the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose calls for a tourism boycott have long kept holidaymakers away, travel industry experts are cautiously hopeful that foreign visitors might once again beat a path to one of south-east Asia’s unspoilt gems.

Accolades such as being named Wanderlust magazine’s “top emerging travel destination of 2011″ should help to propel Burma from a tourism backwater to an exciting new destination – although activists warn that the nation needs to make a lot of progress before becoming a guilt-free holiday paradise. “Burma needs to be visited with care. But those who do visit carefully… inevitably return with exceptional memories,” said Wanderlust in its award citation. “There are the sights, natural and man-made – the stupa-studded plains of Bagan, Yangon’s giant golden pagoda, the floating gardens of Inle Lake – but it’s the resilient and welcoming Burmese people who create the lasting impression.” More:

She’s free

Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been released by Myanmar’s military government on Saturday, November 13 after her latest term of detention expired. The 65-year-old Nobel Peace Laureate was released after her latest round of detention of seven and a half years.

Read the AP wire story (via New York Times) here.

She might have been the most famous, but Aung San Suu Kyi is not Burma’s only political prisoner. The BBC says there could be over 2,000 political prisoners in Buma. Read that story here.

For full coverage, visit The Irrawaddy website

Watch an Al-Jazeera video on Myanmar’s democratic icon

We hear you Michael Aris, loud and clear

Amartya Sen takes India to task for tolerating tyranny in Burma and asks the world to call the bluff on its sham election. In Outlook.

It is difficult for me to talk about Burma without a deep sense of nostalgia. My earliest memories are all of Burma, where I grew up between the ages of three and six. My father was a visiting professor at the Agricultural College in Mandalay, on leave from Dhaka University. My first memory of striking natural beauty is that of sunrise over the Maymyo hills seen from our wooden house at the eastern edge of Mandalay. It was a thrilling sight even for a young boy. My first recollections of warm human relations stretching beyond my own family are also of kindly Burmese society. Mandalay was a lively city in the 1930s, and Burma a magically beautiful country. The richness of the land and the enormous capacity of the Burmese people to be happy and friendly shone brightly through the restraining lid of British colonialism. more

Aung San Suu Kyi’s first day of freedom. The Guardian newspaper has a photofeature here

After the flood

In Literary Review, a review of Everything is Broken: The Untold Story of Disaster Under Burma’s Military Regime by Emma Larkin (Granta Books):

On 2 May 2008 tropical cyclone Nargis struck Burma with such force that even today nobody knows how many people were killed, although the ruling military junta reported exactly how many chickens died. Here is the special quality of this regime, as Emma Larkin writes in her latest evocative book: ‘Events happen in Burma, and then they are systematically unhappened.’ Unhappened is a good word, and very Orwellian, an echo perhaps of Larkin’s wonderful previous book on Orwell’s early years in Burma.

Official Burmese lying is stupendous. 1,250,194 chickens died in the cyclone, the junta declared. They also said that 76.28 per cent of Rangoon’s telephone lines were soon restored, together with 98.5 per cent of the water supply.

Those were obvious lies. But some of Larkin’s details are unforgettably revealing. Once international aid was permitted, under cumbersome regulations, buffalos were obtained from the north-west to take the place of the thousands drowned in the delta. But ‘Arakanese buffalo’, Larkin writes, ‘didn’t understand the commands uttered by delta farmers who speak a different dialect from their counterparts in Arakan State.’ Other animal stories told among the people are equally illuminating: ‘a boy … had been rescued by a crocodile, a girl … survived by holding on to a goose, and a woman … managed to catch hold of a python as it navigated the storm surge’. Larkin heard how people ‘spoke with awe of how poisonous snakes had become entwined around their necks in the rising water but had not bitten them’. More:

Burma’s hip-hop resistance

Thxa Soe’s music gives Burma’s youth a focus for dissatisfaction with the military junta despite strict censorship writes Jack Davies in The Guardian

They know every word. Boys, bare-chested and sweating in the April heat. Girls clutching digital cameras, their faces streaked with paste to protect them from the sun. They answer the call-and-response lines with increasing excitement. By the time Thxa Soe reaches the chorus, the crowd have taken over. With fists pumping the air, they roar his words back at him.

This is a summer music festival, soaked in alcohol and drenched in sweat, the same as anywhere. But this is Burma, and nothing is the same here. more

burma-hip-hop-challenge-junta

India worries as China builds ports in South Asia

Vikas Bajaj in the New York Times:

Hambantota, Sri Lanka: For years, ships from other countries, laden with oil, machinery, clothes and cargo, sped past this small town near India as part of the world’s brisk trade with China.

Now, China is investing millions to turn this fishing hamlet into a booming new port, furthering an ambitious trading strategy in South Asia that is reshaping the region and forcing India to rethink relations with its neighbors.

As trade in the region grows more lucrative, China has been developing port facilities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, and it is planning to build railroad lines in Nepal. These projects, analysts say, are part of a concerted effort by Chinese leaders and companies to open and expand markets for their goods and services in a part of Asia that has lagged behind the rest of the continent in trade and economic development.

But these initiatives are irking India, whose government worries that China is expanding its sphere of regional influence by surrounding India with a “string of pearls” that could eventually undermine India’s pre-eminence and potentially rise to an economic and security threat. More:

When she’s 64

aung-san-suu-kyi1Thanks to Sanjoy Narayan of the Hindustan Times for this brilliant link to 64 for Aung San Suu Kyi. The website is a place where you can leave words of support for Burma’s imprisoned democracy leader who turned 64 on June 19 this year.

Writes Sanjoy: Already, the website has garnered messages from people from around the globe-politicians, actors and celebrities but also individuals who have pledged their support and demanded the release of Suu Kyi who has been under detention for much of the past 19 years.

You can visit the site to read, hear and watch the hundreds of messages left by people, including luminaries from the world’s power list like actor George Clooney, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Czech leader Vaclav Havel, football star David Beckham,  actor Daniel Craig, the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, President of the Maldives M Nasheed, author Salman Rushdie, actor Julia Roberts, UK Conservative Party leader David Cameron, Madeleine Albright, Steven Spielberg, Orhan Pamuk and several others.

There are tweets from Yoko Ono, a video from Richard Branson plus a blog that’s regularly updated on the website.

To send your own message or to link to the site click here.

Not such a hero after all

Aung San Suu Kyi made the world take notice of Burma’s struggle for democracy. But her failure to react to recent key crises means that many of her followers now question her ability to lead the fight against the military junta. Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy in the Guardian:

suuAung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy activist and leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in Burma, is the world’s most famous political prisoner. She has spent the best part of the past 20 years under house arrest, detained by the military dictatorship she opposes. Her current imprisonment began in May 2003, when her convoy was attacked and 70 of her supporters killed by a militia of government-sponsored thugs known darkly as the Masters of Force. She has been confined to her Rangoon home ever since.

Suu Kyi was born into the family that drove Burma’s independence movement: her father was General Aung San, who was murdered by his political rivals in July 1947, shortly after negotiating his country’s independence from Britain. Suu Kyi was pushed into politics in 1988 after thousands of students protesters were gunned down on the streets of Rangoon – when she delivered her inaugural speech at Rangoon’s Shwe Dagon Pagoda on August 26 that year, a crowd of 500,000 came to hear her. A nation held in a headlock by a junta since 1962 fell behind her gutsy message of hope, and she led the NLD to a landslide election victory in May 1990, winning 392 out of 485 seats.

More:

One last stand: a new strategy to save the tiger

Sequestering tigers in nature reserves may doom them to a slow, genetic death. To save them, conservationists want to give them freedom to roam. Lily Huang in Newsweek:

Alan Rabinowitz has spent nearly three decades in a pitched battle to save the world’s few remaining havens for predator cats. He’s turned the Coxcombe Basin in Belize into the world’s first jaguar preserve, and built the largest nature reserve in Taiwan, the first national park in the Himalayas, and the world’s largest tiger reserve in Burma. Nevertheless, he knows he is losing.

The problem, Rabinowitz and other leading biologists now know, is that the classic conservation strategy of preserving habitat is in fact no defense against extinction. Twenty years ago, the devastation of natural forest was a visible danger. What went unseen was the damage sustained on a larger field of battle: the gene pool. A reserve may be a refuge for wildlife, but it is also a genetic sink. When a population of large predators is confined to pristine island of wilderness over time, they fall to inbreeding, leaving the species with weaker young and fewer defenses in an environment increasingly distorted by climate change. This is the deepening lesson of wildlife conservation from the post-industrial age to the genomic age: you can’t save animals without saving their homes, and you can’t save species without saving their genes.

More:

Visit Myanmar — That’s an order

Travel to Myanmar has slowed to a trickle. But a decade ago, with great fanfare, the government launched a new tourism campaign. Stephen Brookes, then Rangoon bureau chief for Asia Times, remembers its bizarre launch ceremony. From World Hum:

The 7-foot dolls had taken their papier-mâché heads off and were milling around behind the stadium, smoking cigarettes and chatting up the dancing girls from the Ministry of Culture.

You could hardly blame them-the enormous heads were hot and airless, and the guys inside had to peer out from two little eyeholes cut into the mouth. Besides, the dancing girls were cute and had jasmine flowers in their hair, and they weren’t due in the stadium for another 15 minutes, to do their part-along with more than 5,000 other costumed performers-for a massive ceremony to usher in “Visit Myanmar Year.”

It was November 18, 1996, and at 5:30 that morning, Myanmar’s military junta had rounded up the few foreign journalists in town and bussed us to a stadium just outside Rangoon, for what they promised would be the media event of the year. Now, two hours later, most of us had managed to sneak out of our assigned seats and were wandering around on the field, trying to figure out what was going on. I stumbled into a makeshift staging area, where I found the gigantic papier-mâché dolls. One of them offered me a Marlboro.

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The agony of Burma’s dumped children

Children in Burma separated from their parents by Cyclone Nargis, continue to survive on their own, very often because they simply cannot afford the bus fare that will reunite them with their families. Heather Mark reports for the Sunday Times.

IN a filthy destitute village, half an hour outside Rangoon, three-year-old Than Than Nues was dumped days after Cyclone Nargis had ravaged her home in Burma’s Irrawaddy delta and made her an orphan.

The toddler, who lost both her parents when 12ft waves swept through their home in Bogalay, a coastal township, was carted off in a government lorry and handed over to strangers. Villagers, who struggled to feed their own families from their meagre rice paddies or from working in a factory on a daily wage of just 75p, were forced to provide for the extra mouths.

Last week underfed children played in the mud-filled main street, still trying to forget the traumatic night in May when they saw their closest relatives swept to their deaths.

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Foreign Policy: The Failed States Index 2008

While the bulk of Failed States are located in Africa, South Asia doesn’t fare much better with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma, at #7, 9 and 12 (Bangladesh and Burma tied at #12) respectively, making the grade. Sri Lanka weighs in the annual list at #20, while Nepal figures at #23 and Bhutan, which just embarked on its road to democracy registering at 51 of the List’s 60 Failed States.

Both Pakistan and Bangladesh registered a fall from last year’s status, with Bangladesh featuring the worst fall of all Failed States, set off by postponed elections, deadlocked government and the continuance of emergency rule that has dragged on for 18 months (not to mention November’s devastating cyclone which left 1.5 million people homeless). Nearby Pakistan didn’t do much better with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

For the complete list and the whole story in Foreign Policy click here.

Myanmar’s new capital isolates junta

The transfer of Myanmar’s junta to Naypyidaw, a relatively remote location, has drained the country’s finances and widened the gulf between the rulers and the ruled. From The New York Times:

The bamboo forests and sugar cane fields that once covered the gently sloping hills here have been replaced by hulking government buildings, roads so long and straight they resemble runways and a vast construction site marked by a sign: “Parliament zone. Do not enter.”

Naypyidaw is Myanmar’s new capital, built in secret by the ruling generals and announced to the public two and a half years ago, when it was a fait accompli.

A nine-hour drive north from the former capital, Yangon, it looks like nothing else in this impoverished country, where one out of three children is malnourished and many roads are nothing more than dirt tracks.

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Reaching out to two and a half million

Twenty-one days after Cyclone Nargis, Burma finally seems to have agreed to allow all aid workers in. Red Cross volunteers are there already, but there’s still miles to go, writes Markku Niskala in The Guardian’s Comment is Free

Now that the Burmese government has finally indicated it may allow all aid workers into the country, the task of reaching Burma’s remoter regions becomes even more pressing. Every night, the dire situation facing hundreds of thousands of cyclone survivors grows more and more desperate. Solutions tailored to Burma just have to be found.

At least one and a half million cyclone survivors remain homeless, many of them hungry, many of them weak, ailing or exhausted. As the rain pours down there is some relief: people can harvest drinking water. But the misery grows, along with the burgeoning health threats. The homeless – a portion of the 2.4 million people the UN estimates have been affected – are facing their 21st night since Cyclone Nargis swept in from the Bay of Bengal and crossed the Irrawaddy delta. Each night is more wretched than the last. Conditions are worsening all the time, and the need for basic lifesaving aid becomes more urgent.

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[Pic: Portraits of cyclone victims hang on what is left of their home in the Irrawaddy delta, Burma. Getty]

The story behind the Pulitzer prize-winning Burma photo

Reuters photographer Adrees Latif won the breaking news photography Pulitzer Prize for his shot of a Japanese videographer killed during anti-government protests in Burma (Myanmar). Read this riveting account of how he got the shot:

Bangkok: I landed in Yangon with some old clothes, a Canon 5D camera, two fixed lenses and a laptop.

For four days in September last year, I went to the city’s historic Shwedagon Pagoda and waited for the Buddhist monks who gathered there to lead the biggest protests against Myanmar’s military rulers in 20 years.

Since I was at the same pagoda every day, dozens of people, including monks, asked me who I was and what I was doing.

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