Importing Burmese timber is supposed to be illegal. So why are U.S. furniture dealers marketing “Burmese Teak?”

Burma: Is that conflict timber on your patio?
BANGKOK, Thailand — Though America’s relations with Burma shows signs of thawing, the regime-run country still suffers some of the U.S. government’s heaviest sanctions.
To punish the Burmese government for human rights abuses, the U.S. government won’t let Americans invest in Burma or import its goods. These prohibitions are meant to prevent Americans from buying up Burma’s most desirable resources — such as rare timber and jade — and inadvertently funding the oppressive regime.
Still, U.S. furniture dealers continue to openly market Burmese wood, notably teak, an increasingly rare hardwood prized for its beauty and resilience. Despite Burma’s infamy, and toughening U.S. laws, Americans can still purchase coveted Burmese hardwood off the Web.
Sales of any Burmese goods may fund the country’s oppressive junta-run government, accused of forced labor, systematic rape and shelling ethnic villages. Exotic timber is one of the junta’s biggest moneymakers.
In 2007-08, timber was the junta-run government’s fourth largest export, according to the U.K. non-profit Global Witness. The advocacy group, famous for exposing Africa’s “blood diamonds” trade, has lobbied intensely to clean up Burma’s timber trade.
Beyond funding human rights abuses, timber sales also help strip already-ravaged forests. Global Witness’ forestry expert, Jon Buckrell, calls the heavily logged region “one of the most biologically rich and most threatened environments on earth.” Continue reading “Importing Burmese timber is supposed to be illegal. So why are U.S. furniture dealers marketing “Burmese Teak?””

THAILAND: UNHCR official “extremely dismayed” over Hmong deportations

BANGKOK, 28 December 2009 (IRIN) – A UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) official has expressed dismay over Thailand’s decision to begin sending some 4,000 ethnic Hmong back to Laos.

“UNHCR is extremely dismayed that Thailand has commenced the deportations of the Lao Hmong today from the camp in Phetchabun,” Ariane Rummery, acting UNHCR spokesperson in Bangkok, told IRIN on 28 December.

“We don’t have access to the area, but we have had reports that deportations began this morning and about 400 people have been removed so far,” she said.

According to local media reports, more than a dozen trucks, accompanied by security forces, were seen transporting the first group of deportees from the camp in Huay Nam Khao village in the northern province of Phetchabun, although UNHCR has been unable to independently verify this.

UNHCR does not assume that all of these people would necessarily be refugees. However, it has in the past received information from the Thai government that some of the Hmong have international protection needs.

“For this reason we think there should have been a more transparent process and that those who do have protection needs should not be forcibly returned,” she said. Continue reading “THAILAND: UNHCR official “extremely dismayed” over Hmong deportations”

Trade in Mae Sot–Myawaddy border up 27 per cent

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Border trading in Mae Sot–Myawaddy has increased 27 per cent from 2008 totalling more than 24 billion baht (724 million US$) in 2009.

Samart Loifa, Governor of Tak Province border with Burma, who presided over a press conference on late Thursday together with related authorities, gave a picture of the border trading position.

“This year trading in the Mae Sot-Myawaddy border is more than 24 billion baht (724 million US$) encouraging businessmen to invest more through this border checkpoint,” he said.

Pongthep Buasap, Director of Mae Sot Customs Office said that export from Thailand is rising while import from Burma is coming down because agricultural products from Burma such as rice and onions were being exported more to China. “There is high demand for these products from China, while Thai importers are also waiting for the ASEAN Free Trade agreement which will come into effect in January 2010 with 0% tax for importing these products,” he said, according to a report in the Thai website Manager. Continue reading “Trade in Mae Sot–Myawaddy border up 27 per cent”

A disciplined Myanmar democracy

Ross Dunkley
The Phnom Penh Post
December 26, 2009

It remains to be seen whether the government’s red pen will be consigned to the rubbish bin.
A decade has now been notched up since The Myanmar Times opened its doors – a substantial achievement and built by the earnest labours of countless dedicated journalists. Some have moved on. Others remain to this day. Still others for various reasons can no longer work shoulder to shoulder with us in our continuing effort to forge an independent and disciplined press in Myanmar.

The nation now stands on the brink of a new era as it prepares for next year’s election, an event poised to bring the most substantial changes in half a century to Myanmar in general and to the media in particular. A new mood has spread through the nation’s newsrooms, where for years publishers, editors and journalists have toiled under the excruciating weight of the official red pen.

This spirit of optimism guided the publication of The Myanmar Times’ 500th weekly edition earlier this month – a 104-page edition that received overwhelming support from readers and advertisers alike and stands as the largest and most successful in the history of the paper and, most likely, in Myanmar as well. Its success confirms the loyalty we have attracted through 10 difficult years and reinforces our love of journalism and our thirst for producing the best news under the most challenging of circumstances.

Confronting and transforming these circumstances remains a chief commitment as we enter our second decade. At a time when many of the world’s publishers grapple with declining revenues, plunging circulation and the mass migration of readers to free online news portals, The Myanmar Times continues to expand its operations in a nation that falls far short of its potential for sound and informative publishing.

In a region where limited access to computers and the Internet limits the impact of cutting-edge global media strategies, we nonetheless embrace as others have the necessity of change. But what drives our evolution is not an obsession with cutting costs but a passionate commitment to good journalism that honours the needs of our readers and remains relevant to our unique surroundings.

Serving a readership whose hunger has fuelled an explosion of new publications in Myanmar in the past decade – some 150 weeklies and 200 magazines – requires that we as editors and reporters constantly update our approach to ensure that we offer the most exclusive and relevant content available. It also requires that we zealously guard our independence in an age where many mainstream media outlets have fallen prey to multinational conglomerates and the exigencies of corporate spin.

We have never been more prepared to do the heavy lifting required of a newspaper that contends at every step with a wired world and global media giants that often put the interests of industry above the rights of readers. Continue reading “A disciplined Myanmar democracy”

Burma and Bangladesh Meeting Tomorrow in Dhaka

Foreign secretary-level consultations between Burma and Bangladesh will be held in Dhaka, Bangladesh, tomorrow.

A three-member Burmese delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister U Maung Myint, is scheduled to arrive in Dhaka today.

According to an official Bangladesh source, the meeting is to be held at the offices of the foreign ministry in Bangladesh. The meeting will start on 29 December and are planned to finish the next day.

The Bangladesh team will be led by Foreign Secretary Mohamed Mizarul Quayes.

Bangladesh is reported preparing to submit some issues for consideration at the meeting, including the improvement of road connectivity, repatriation of Rohingya refugees, improving exports to Burma, and the maritime boundary dispute.

Meanwhile, Burmese Nasaka border security force director-general, General Maung Maung Own, is arriving in Maungdaw on the western Burmese border, but no details about his tour are available. However, it is believed that his trip to Maungdaw is related to the foreign secretary-level meeting in Bangladesh.

Among the 11 Arakanese youth are Tun Lin Kyaw, Ko Khaing Kyaw Moe, and Ko Kyaw Win, who were arrested by Burma’s special police in Rangoon and Sittwe in September 2009

11 Arakanese Youths Produced in Court After 3 Months

Dhaka: Burmese military authorities produced 11 Arakanese youths inside Insein prison’s court on 23 December, after three months of detaining them for interrogation, said a colleague of the youths.

“The authority produced them at the western district court of Insein prison on 23 December, and Judge San Myint was hearing the government plaintiff’s complaint,” he said.

Among the 11 Arakanese youth are Tun Lin Kyaw, Ko Khaing Kyaw Moe, and Ko Kyaw Win, who were arrested by Burma’s special police in Rangoon and Sittwe in September 2009, on accusations they had connections to outside political organizations.

“The police charged them in court with two offenses, one is having connections to illegal political organizations, and another is an immigration offense, as some of them crossed the border without permission,” he said.

The connection with an illegal organization is prohibited under a section of Act 17 (1), while crossing the border without permission was charged under Act 13.

According to family sources, the youths were severely tortured and harassed by the authority during the interrogations prior to being produced on charges in court.

The Burmese military junta-run newspaper published a story about the arrest of the youths on 24 September, claiming the authority seized C-4 cartridges from them and reporting the government had accused the youth of plotting with the ABSDF and AASYC to create public unrest in Burma.