Media under siege in Southeast Asia

Media under siege in Southeast Asia
Editorial, The Nation
Latest rankings for press freedom leave Thailand and all other Asean countries with nothing to shout about.

The annual Press Freedom Index for 2009, released earlier this month by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), makes for disturbing reading for the Asean region. People in Southeast Asia must ask if we’re sacrificing long-term democracy and freedom for short-term security and stability.

Aside from a glimmer of hope in Indonesia, ranked at 100 out of 175 nations, the rest of the Asean region increasingly resembles a big rotten basket full of repressive regimes and opponents of press freedom.

Burma, ruled by a notorious military junta, ranked near the bottom, at 171 out of 175, in this latest worldwide index. The country is described by RSF as: “[A] paradise for censors, one of the very few countries where all publications are subjected to prior censorship. After China and Cuba, it is the world’s largest prison for journalists and bloggers.”

Thirteen journalists and cyber dissidents are currently imprisoned.

Vietnam, ranked at 166 out of 175, is only relatively better: “Aside from underground dissidents and online publications, Vietnam has no independent media. The written press, television and radio are all under the control of Hanoi.”

Despite an acknowledgement that some efforts are being made to roll back censorship there, RSF noted that a dozen journalists and cyber dissidents are in jail. Continue reading “Media under siege in Southeast Asia”

ASEAN Secretariat Press Release – ASEAN Foreign Ministers Calls for More Funds for Post-Nargis Activities

ASEAN Secretariat, 28 October 2009
The ASEAN Foreign Ministers called for more funds and support for Nargis-affected people during the 15th ASEAN Summit in Cha-am Hua Hin, Thailand, 23-25 October 2009. The call was made following the Foreign Ministers’ endorsement of the Tripartite Core Group’s Prioritised Action Plan and the proposal to hold a Post-Nargis Assistance Conference (PONAC) to raise $103 million to address outstanding critical needs in the Nargis-hit areas of Myanmar.

The Prioritised Action Plan undertaken by the humanitarian communities is the result of a prioritization exercise that took place in Yangon and the Delta in August and September 2009. It identifies interventions in Shelter, Livelihoods, Water, Sanitation & Hygiene, Education and Health – and corresponds to an assessment of delivery capacity from numerous agencies engaged in each of the sectors. It aims to provide 17,800 new houses, 16 cyclone shelters, livelihood programs for 1 million people, water and sanitation facilities for 800,000 people, education facilities to 35,000 students and health services to 900,000 individuals.

The PONAC, scheduled for 25 November 2009 in Bangkok, Thailand, aims to take stock of the progress of post-Nargis assistance over the last 18 months and to mobilise funds to address the outstanding humanitarian needs up to July 2010. It also serves as a forum for regional lessons sharing in disaster management in the wake of the multiple-disasters that struck Southeast Asia in September 2009. “People in the cyclone-affected area are awaiting our action to help them help themselves. Continued support from the donor community is urgently needed to revive their lives after one of the biggest disasters in their country’s history engulfed them. I hope that we will not let them down in their hour of need,” said Dr. William Sabandar, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General of ASEAN for post-Nargis Recovery in Myanmar.

The Tripartite Core Group (TCG) was officially established on 31 May 2008. It comprises high-level representatives from the United Nations, Government of the Union of Myanmar and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.


Contact details:
Mai Phuong Tang
Communications Officer
ASEAN Humanitarian Task Force
Coordinating Office in Yangon
Tel: +951 544500 Ext. 428

Drugs, guns and war in Myanmar

By Brian McCartan

BANGKOK – Mounting tensions between Myanmar’s military government and ethnic groups with which it has ceasefire agreements in the country’s northern regions have spurred a surge in drug trafficking. Driven by militias’ growing demand for weapons to counter anticipated government offensives, a narcotics fire-sale is raising concerns of greater instability along the borders of several neighboring countries, including China.

Myanmar’s military regime has demanded that the insurgent groups with which it agreed ceasefires in the late 1980s and early 1990s hand over their arms to government control. A deadline set for the end of October has been allowed to pass and discussions between the military and two main ethnic armies, the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the National Democratic Alliance Army  (Eastern Shan State) (NDAA), are reportedly continuing.

Neither side appears willing to back down, prompting speculation that new fighting may be imminent. Under the government’s proposed Border Guard Force plan, ethnic armies would be downsized into several battalions consisting of 326 men. Each would have a contingent of Myanmar army and non-commissioned officers and operate under the central command of the Myanmar Army. The junta has said it will provide weapons, equipment, uniforms and even salaries to the proposed units.

The generals have indicated that a handover of weapons, either through the border guard scheme or through forced surrender, is key to their plan to achieve national reconciliation by holding general elections next year. The political stakes for that plan are high. The junta has demonstrated a willingness to risk the ire of ally China through an assault in August on the Kokang ceasefire group, which caused a flood of refugees to stream across the border into neighboring China.

Both the Myanmar army and the Kokang have since reinforced their troops and appear to be preparing for further hostilities that security analysts predict could spill over into other insurgent-controlled territories. It’s still unclear if Myanmar will risk its relations with Beijing by attacking the remaining and better armed ceasefire groups along the Myanmar-China border, a battle plan that has the potential to significantly destabilize southern China. Continue reading “Drugs, guns and war in Myanmar”

ASEAN-US summit to discuss Suu Kyi: Singapore

SINGAPORE – Detained Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi will be discussed when US President Barack Obama meets Southeast Asian leaders this month, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Tuesday.

Lee, who will host the US-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit on November 15, described the inaugural meeting as a “significant step forward” in relations between Washington and ASEAN.

The event marks the first time a US leader will be in one room with counterparts from all 10 ASEAN states. It will follow a meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group, also in the city-state.

Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein is expected to attend, Lee said.

Washington’s ties with ASEAN had been hobbled by its position on Myanmar, whose military regime has been accused of human rights violations, including the continued detention of Suu Kyi and other dissidents.

But in a recent policy shift, the Obama administration decided to re-engage with Myanmar, while maintaining a critical view on certain issues.

Regarding “Aung San Suu Kyi, I think ASEAN’s view is clear and we’ve always said that we believe she ought to be released,” Lee said at a news conference ahead of the APEC meeting.

“I’m sure this will be discussed in the US-ASEAN summit too and I’m sure both sides will state their views.”

Lee described the ASEAN-US summit as “a good sign because the US… is now moving to engage Myanmar and I think Myanmar is engaging.”

He spoke as two senior US envoys arrived in Myanmar for talks with the ruling junta and Suu Kyi, the highest level visit to the country in 14 years.

“This is all to the good because our view has always been that ostracising Myanmar and cutting it off altogether is not the constructive way forward. It is unlikely to yield any results,” Lee said.

Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi had her house arrest extended in August for 18 months after she was convicted over an incident in which an American man swam to her home. This effectively sidelines her from elections planned for next year, analysts say.

Apart from Myanmar and Singapore, ASEAN also includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Arrested poet Khant Min Htet untraceable

by Nem Davies
Tuesday, 03 November 2009 17:45

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The whereabouts of poet Khant Min Htet, also the layout designer of Rangoon based Ahlinkar Wutyee Journal, picked up by the police about two weeks ago from his home, is still not known, his family said.

The Special Branch (SB) of the police arrested him on October 22 from his home in Thaketa Township. Four days after his arrest, a four-member SB team came to his home again and searched his house. They seized some CDs from his home and a computer hard disk from his journal office.

“They just said that they are taking him for questioning but we still do not know his whereabouts. The family is terribly worried,” father of Khant Min Htet and Padauk Pwint Thit Editor-in-Chief Maung Sein Ni told Mizzima.

His family felt his arrest has something to do with politics but the authorities did not disclose anything about it, his family said.

The Thailand based ‘Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners-Burma’ (AAPP-B) said that at least 41 political activists including members of the Cyclone Nargis volunteer relief workers group ‘Lin Let Kye’ were arrested in Rangoon last month.

Optimism over reopening of NLD-Rangoon branch

by Mizzima News
Tuesday, 03 November 2009 20:32

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Members of the Rangoon division National League for Democracy, Burma’s main opposition party, are optimistic about their office reopening after the 1990 Election Commission on Monday called them for a meeting over it, following a request.

Dr. Than Nyein, Chairman of the Rangoon Division NLD, on Tuesday told Mizzima that he along with several of his colleagues were called to the divisional commission office, near the Sule Pagoda in downtown Rangoon, and asked to submit the list of currently active committee members.

“They [the Commission] told us to submit a fresh list of committee members of the NLD-Rangoon division and said that further discussions would be held after the submission,” Dr. Tha Nyein said.

He said, the Rangoon Division NLD in early October submitted an appeal, requesting the Commission to allow them to reopen their office, which was closed in 2003.

“What is significant here is that the Commission said they would like to have the list of the current divisional committee members of the NLD and did not ask for the names of old members,” he added.

Formed in 1988, several members including branch office committee members of the NLD have gone missing. While some have died, several others are in exile and scores of them are still incarcerated.

Dr. Than Nyein, who was imprisoned for 11 years and released on September 2008 said, in earlier years the Commission would question them about NLD branch offices not having the required number of committee members to be allowed to open their offices. Continue reading “Optimism over reopening of NLD-Rangoon branch”