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Rohingya Muslim students hope for better lives

Posted by pakin On June - 23 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

But education discrimination persists against this minority of 1.3 million people

MYANMAR’S most repeated motto under President Thein Sein is: “Building a modern developed nation through education”.For thousands of Rohingya Muslim schoolkids, education is a way of escaping from lifetime tragedy in locked internally displacedperson (IDP) camps and villages in Rakhine state. Such an environment, human rights groups say, is akin to the world’s” biggest openair prisons”.

The struggle to get away is incredible.Rohingya Muslim students need higher marks in the Grade 11 examination. And only the highly competitive medical study is allowed. It’s a winner-take-all contest as the Rohingya Muslim students are not permitted to apply for other subjects at Sittwe University. They are banned from studying liberal arts or sciences such as English or zoology, as a result of the sectarian violence in June 2012.

Last year, nevertheless, an IDP Rohingya teenager, Maung Min Naing, from the camp here with outstanding grades was permitted to enrol in the medical school in Magway in central Myanmar.

“Students at medical schools are a good role model for Rohingya kids. It’s the only channel opened for them to continue their studies since they cannot study at the university level in Rakhine,” Hla Kyaw, a Rohingya teacher in the Thet Kay Pin IDP camp in Sittwe, said recently. The teacher has been privately tutoring a group of 11thgraders at a bamboo house to prepare them for the next academic year. He lamented that just 16 Rohingya students from camps in Sittwe took the Grade 11 exam last March.

“Two students out of 16 passed the exam and one with two distinctions,” said Hla Kyaw, who

graduated from Sittwe in chemistry in 1996. “I often think about a hundred Rohingya students joining the exam next March.” More than 150,000 Rohingya Muslims from Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine, were driven from their homes during the sectarian violence in June 2012. At least 200 were believed to have been killed and 13 Muslim quarters out of 14 were burned down.

The government of Myanmar set up temporary camps for hundreds of thousands of internally displace persons, most of them Muslims, around the north of Sittwe. Now entering the third year, there are still no signs that these residents can return to their homes in Sittwe town.

“We fled from the town and took refuge here. I thought it would be a few months. But now temporary means permanent,” said Daw Sandar, who runs a pharmacy in the camp.

“Alongside a host of problems, the one we are most worried about for our kids is their education.”

According to IDP camp committee members,about 200 Muslim students who werestudying at Sittwe University before the violence are barred from returning to the university. Just one high school was

allowed to operate in the 2014 academic year. In the following year of the violence, Muslim students in IDP camps were depending on a middle school to further their education.

“My daughter was in the 10thgrade when we fled from the violence. But in the camps, there was no high school education available,” Daw Sandar said.

“So my daughter went repeatedly to a middle school for Grade 9.” It is a tearful panorama that Sittwe

University is located just within walking distance from Muslim IDP camps north of Sittwe. It is out of reach for Muslim students.The university entrance is still heavily guarded by riot police in khaki uniform and soldiers in green. Muslim students can only watch with dismay as three-wheel motorcycle taxis carry Rakhine students to the university passing through Bumay, a Muslim village near Sittwe University.

“We are just sitting at teashops or corners of dusty roads, seeing my friends going to the university,” said Mohammad Shari, or Maung San Oo, his Burmese name, who was studying psychology before June 2012.

“Of course, I am shattered.”Last year Maung San Oo and his friends signed a letter to Sittwe University authorities, requesting to continue their studies. But there were only told that only correspondence courses might be provided. The Education Ministry merely says the situation there is not conducive for Muslim students.

The request letter was sent to U Shwe Kan Kyaw, a student affairs administrator at Sittwe University. When asked about the future of Muslim university students and why they are kept out, he wiped sweat from his face.”Decisions for the Muslim students came from Nay Pyi Daw due to security, not from the university. So we can only allow them to reenrol if we get the green light from Nay Pyi Daw.

“As teachers, all of us staff at the university want to see all students studying at the university

equally.”

This education discrimination among the Rohingya Muslim minority with an estimated 1.3 million population reflects a likely apartheid policy in western Myanmar alongside the restrictions on freedom of movement and access to healthcare.

Since March 27, all international NGO healthcare workers at Rohingya camps were suspended after Rakhine mobs attacked their offices in Sittwe. Before the violence, Rakhine and Muslims were living side-by-side for generations. In many instances, it was an employee-employer relationship as most of Rohingya Muslims worked in Rakhine’s shops, restaurants and houses as labourers. While Rohingya Muslims drove trishaws in Sittwe, Rakhine were their passengers. The situation took a turn overnight in the middle of 2012 following photos of a raped and murdered Rakhine girl that appeared on social

media such as Facebook and the streets of Rakhine. Three Muslim were accused. The incident ignited sectarian violence between Rakhine Buddhist and Muslims across Rakhine in the following days, and hundreds were killed and millions of dollars worth of properties were destroyed.

The government in Nay Pyi Daw now separates and bars the two communities from using barbed wire and security forces on grounds of preventing hatred and further violence.

Many people in the country including those in Rakhine feel that such tactics are fruitless in the long run since they don’t address the root causes of the crisis.

“Muslim refugees without hope for education can be more dangerous,” said U Khaing Kaung Zan, director of the Wan Latt development foundation in Sittwe.

“People without education can become extremists at any time.”

As Rohingya are banned from higher education,an increasing alternative education resource for Muslim teenagers has become “Madrasa” religious schools set up in the IDP camps and villages.

A major Madrasa is the Dar Paing Madrasa near Sittwe. Ahmad Hussein, the headMaulana, said the student bodies at religious schools have dramatically increased in the past two years from 50 to 350 members.

“Students cannot go to high school and the university. So we are getting more students,”said Ahmad Hussein, who wears a Pakistani long white dress and sports a beard. Asked whether there are extremists among young Rohingyas since they are living in a heart-breaking environment, Hussein said his preference is escape rather than resistance.

“As long as I’m alive, I’ll be patient in this situation. If I could not live here, I would be ready to run away elsewhere,” he said.

For some teenage Rohingya Muslim students in the private tuition class organised by teacher U Hla Kyaw, escaping from this tragedy takes on another meaning. They believe hard study to get good marks at the university entrance exam is a ticket out.

“I’m trying to get as high marks as I can in order to go to the medical school in Magway,” said Maung Soe Than Htut, a 15-year-old Rohingya student referring to one of four medical universities in Myanmar.

“I know if I cannot get good enough grades to attend medical school, I will be still be locked in here,” he said.

Top Chinese diplomat to visit Vietnam

Posted by pakin On June - 17 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

HANOI – A top Chinese diplomat will visit Vietnam this week after China’s deployment of a giant oil rig off Vietnam’s coast in May increased tensions.

Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi and Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh will discuss the oil rig when they meet at an annual bilateral event Yang is attending, Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh told reporters Monday.

Mr Yang’s visit will be the highest-level meeting between the two governments since the rig was deployed on May 2.

“As we have affirmed many times that Vietnam has always been patient to look for dialogues with China to peacefully resolve the tension in the East Sea,” Mr Binh said referring to the South China Sea. “This meeting, therefore, will surely be a channel and an event the two sides could discuss the issue to find out solutions for the current tension.”

Mr Minh and Mr Yang spoke by phone in early May.

The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry said in a statement at the time that Mr Minh denounced China’s placement of the oil rig, saying it seriously violated Vietnam’s sovereignty and demanding China immediately withdraw the oil rig and its escorting vessels.

China’s official Xinhua News Agency, however, quoted Mr Yang as telling Mr Minh that Vietnam should stop harassing China’s normal drilling operations.

Col Ngo Ngoc Thu, deputy commander of Vietnam’s coast guard, dismissed China’s allegations that Vietnamese vessels rammed Chinese ships 1,547 times. He said 36 Vietnamese vessels were rammed and damaged and that 15 Vietnamese fisheries patrol staff and two fishermen were injured.

He disputed Chinese accusations that Vietnamese divers left obstacles in the water to disrupt drilling operations. He said Vietnam did not use divers near the rig but that fishermen were forced to leave behind nets and other equipment because Chinese ships used water cannons to force the fishing boats to retreat.

As Myanmar is speeding up the implementation of special economic zones (SEZ) before the launch of the Asean Economic Community, the success of Thilawa SEZ will serve as a “gateway” to a lot of mega-projects in the country, an economist said.

Maung Aung, senior adviser to the Ministry of Commerce, told Myanmar Eleven that Thilawa SEZ plays a vital role in the country’s economy as it will set a good example for the implementation of mega-projects.

“Currently, many investors are keeping an eye on the development of Thilawa SEZ. Not only Japanese investors but also international businesses are looking closely at the zone’s development. If we can do well in Thilawa SEZ within the targeted timeframe, I am sure thousands of businesses will flock to our country,” said Maung Aung.

The adviser pointed out that all-inclusive participation is needed to make the project a success.

“I heard [that] Myanmar Thilawa SEZ Holdings Public Limited has sold out thousands of its shares to the public. As there are many new shareholders in the firm, the Board of Directors should get advice from the public and listen to other shareholders.”

Sett Aung, chairperson of the Thilawa Special Economic Zone Management Committee, said in an earlier press conference that the management team of Myanmar Thilawa SEZ Holdings might be reformed owing to the increase in the number of shareholders.

Currently, Win Aung, chairman for Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce (UMFCCI), and Thein Wai, chairman of First Myanmar Investment Co (FMI), are serving as the chairman and vice chairman of the Thilawa SEZ Holdings, respectively.

Criticism arises over the selection of shareholders as chairman and vice chairman, as this may lead to a conflict of interest.

The SEZ has a total area of 5787.187 acres (2342 hectares). Class A area, which is the first phase of construction work, has a land area of 978.691 acres (396.061 hectres). As it is a special economic zone, there will be residential and commercial areas besides industrial area. There will be supermarkets, residential housings, and international schools, hospitals, etc. Such buildings will be built in the residential and commercial areas.

“There will be free zone and promotion zone as you can learn it in the new Special Economic Zone law. Export-oriented industries will be in the free zone. Domestic-oriented industries, supermarkets, residential housings, recreation centres will be situated in the promotion zone. So we will form the free zone as the international bounded area,” said Sett Aung.

“In Thilawa SEZ, we will separate into two parts: free-zone industries and other industries. There may be a domestic market-oriented industry near the free zone. But they will enjoy the same opportunities as other domestic-oriented industries do. We take Model 2 of the new Special Economic Zone law.”

Sett Aung emphasised the role of the developer as it will invest, build, and maintain the whole zone. Myanmar-Japan Thilawa Development, which is a joint-venture company, will serve as a developer while Thilawa SEZ Management Committee will serve as a regulator.

“The regulator itself has become the minority shareholder in Thilawa SEZ. In the newly formed joint-venture company, SEZ Management Committee will possess 10 per cent of shares while Myanmar Thilawa SEZ Holdings possesses 41 per cent of shares. [The]Japanese consortium will hold 39 per cent while Japan International Cooperation Agency [JICA] will hold 10 per cent,” said Sett Aung, who is also the deputy governor at the Central Bank of Myanmar.

He noted that there was one condition then that the developer must be a public company. The other criteria are the company must have more than 50 shareholders and it must submit the letter of intent within two weeks from advertisement date. At the time, there were more than 20 public companies and of total, only 12 have more than 50 shareholders. Moreover, only nine of the 12 managed to submit the letter of intent on time. These companies ended up being the shareholders of Myanmar Thilawa SEZ Holdings.

But Sett Aung highlighted that the voting rights of the initiating developers will be the same as those of other shareholders and there will not be any discrimination among the shareholders.

Win Aung, the chairperson of the Myanmar Thilawa SEZ Holdings, said that the construction of factories will commence in the zone by this month. Four roads connecting the Thilawa special economic zone are already planned for construction.

P. Penh court frees workers, activists

Posted by pakin On May - 30 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

PHNOM PENH – A Cambodian court found 25 people guilty on Friday of acts of violence during strikes by garment workers but all were given suspended sentences and freed, a ruling likely to be welcomed by global manufacturers operating in the country.

The deadly crackdown on the strikes and working conditions in the garment sector have attracted international criticism.

Representatives of global brands including Hennes & Mauritz AB, Gap Inc, Puma SE and Levi Strauss & Co visited Cambodia this week to tell the government their buying would depend on stability, transparency and the rule of law, according to IndustriALL Global Union, a labour group based in Switzerland that attended the talks.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court judges convicted the workers, trade unionists and protesters of intentional violence including damage to public property during strikes in November last year and January 2014.

They were given suspended jail terms of between one and 4 and a half years.

Cambodia’s garment industry generated US$5.3 billion (172 billion baht) in revenue last year. The industry employs about 600,000 people and strikes for higher pay and better working conditions have been on the rise.

Cambodian military police opened fire with assault rifles on Jan 3 to quell a strike by garment factory workers demanding a doubling of their monthly wage to $160. At least three people were killed.

The government increased the wage to $100 from $80 but unions and workers have refused to accept it.

They have joined forces with the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which has been protesting on and off for months after claiming it won a general election last July. The party of long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen won according to the election authority and he remains in power.

Levi’s has cut its sourcing from Cambodia in the past year due to concerns about political instability and human rights violations in the country, the group said in an email to Reuters.

“We reduced our sourcing in Cambodia to reduce supply chain risk and ensure delivery. We hope to see swift progress on the outstanding labour and human rights concerns so our sourcing can return to previous levels,” Levi’s said.

Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL, said in a statement after the talks with the government: “For the first time global brands have acknowledged that they are prepared to cost in the price of higher salaries in Cambodia.”

Ahead of the verdicts, Mr Raina had said the companies and unions were concerned about the fate of those appearing in court and that Cambodia “was at risk of losing its status as a strategic sourcing market, with an impact on future investment and growth”.

Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said the minimum wage could not be doubled and that it had to go up gradually for the industry to survive. Exports had dropped 17% in the first three months of the year compared with last year, he said.

“There is no country that can double wages,” Ken Loo said, adding that most international buyers had not agreed to pay more to local factories to enable them to increase wages. “If we increase by too much, factories close.”

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