The president of Myanmar promised to release all political prisoners by the end of this year on Monday and said he thought a nationwide ceasefire was possible in the coming weeks for the first time in six decades.
"By the end of the year there will be no prisoners of conscience in Myanmar,” President Thein Sein told an audience at the Chatham House think tank in London. A special committee was reviewing every political prisoner’s case, he added.
Sein, who met Prime Minister David Cameron earlier on Monday, also said he thought a nationwide ceasefire was possible in the coming weeks after the government signed a peace deal aimed at ending the final ethnic conflict last month.
"It’s possible that there will be a nationwide ceasefire in the coming weeks," he said. "It would be the first time in 60 years that the guns fall silent."
Sein added that his country didn’t want to become aid dependent, but needed help to weather a transition period and stand on its own two feet.
Sein is on a two-day visit to Britain to talk trade, aid and democracy before travelling on to France.
Myanmar’s government has signed an agreement with a major ethnic rebel group to build mutual trust in an effort to defuse recent tensions between the armies from the two sides, state-run media reported.
The Kyemon daily said the five-point agreement signed Friday between a government peace delegation and the ethnic Wa rebel group includes clauses calling for prompt meetings between the two armies whenever military issues arise and committing the rebel United Wa State Army not to secede.
Myanmar says President to make official US visit
Myanmar’s reformist President Thein Sein will visit the White House next week, the first such trip by a Myanmar head of state in almost 47 years and a sign of warming ties.
Myanmar state television announced the U.S. visit Monday, saying it comes at the invitation of President Barack Obama. It gave no exact date, but congressional staffers in Washington who were briefed on the upcoming trip said Thein Sein would meet Obama May 20.
The last Myanmar leader to visit the White House was the late dictator Ne Win in 1966.
Myanmar to open museum in late UN chief’s house
A home of the United Nations’ first Asian secretary-general, the late U Thant, will open as a museum in Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon.
Government officials, diplomats and members of U Thant’s family gathered Saturday to unveil the restored home, a two-story yellow villa built in the 1920s.
It underwent a six-month renovation as part of an effort to preserve the colonial-era cityscape of one of Asia’s last untouched cities that has been led by the historian Thant Myint-U, who is U Thant’s grandson.
U Thant was the U.N.’s third chief, leading the world body from 1961 to 1971. He lived in the home prior to becoming secretary-general, while serving as a top adviser to Myanmar’s then-Prime Minister U Nu.
Vodafone said the two groups had agreed to form a consortium to bid for a licence in the former Burma, where the government is seeking to increase the number of mobile operators from two to four.
"With a comparatively young and highly literate population of around 60 million, a GDP growth rate of 5.5 percent per annum and mobile phone penetration currently below 10 percent - significantly lower than in many other emerging economies - Myanmar will be an important new market for the global mobile industry,” Vodafone said.
AP opens full news bureau in Myanmar
The Associated Press has become the first international news agency to open a bureau in Myanmar since a reformist government took power two years ago and began relaxing restrictions on the media for the first time in decades.
The opening paves the way for AP to expand its coverage of the unfolding transition in Myanmar, which is still emerging from nearly half a century of military rule, for its members and customers around the world.
Six multi-format journalists will staff the new AP bureau full time. Among them is award-winning correspondent Aye Aye Win, who has reported from her native country for the AP since 1989 and was honored for courage in 2008 by the International Women’s Media Foundation. She succeeded another AP veteran in Yangon — her father, Sein Win, who covered the nation also known as Burma for AP for 20 years and was imprisoned several times, including during the failed pro-democracy uprising in 1988.
Myanmar allows visas for foreign journalists
Myanmar will roll out visas for foreign journalists in its latest push towards liberalization of its heavily censored media.
The three-month visas will allow foreign journalists “unhindered” coverage and allow them to “travel to any part of the country” without prior permission, including its conflict zones.
“Our country is opening up. We have to reduce our previous rules and regulations,” Myint Kyaw, a director at the Ministry of Information, told The Wall Street Jorunal. “By giving a three-month visa, it will allow journalists all over the world enough time to do proper reporting on Myanmar.”
Visas would only be granted on a single-entry basis, according to Ye Htut, a spokesperson for President Thein Sein. Journalists working on documentaries or other long-term projects requiring multiple entries to Myanmar might have to pay additional fees.
Still, the new provisions mark a significant move to cement Myanmar’s transition towards democratization.
For decades, media outlets in Myanmar were subject to grueling scrutiny and censorship while most foreign journalists enter the country pretending to be tourists.
Myanmar parliament agrees to review constitution
Myanmar’s parliament agreed Wednesday to set up a commission to review the pro-military 2008 constitution, a process that could eventually change the political landscape and allow opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to contest the presidency.
Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy party has long said that the constitution is undemocratic because of provisions that allow the military to control a substantial percentage of parliamentary seats and disqualify Suu Kyi from holding the presidency.
However, lawmakers from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, who proposed the commission, say they want to change provisions concerning state governments to allow ethnic minorities increased self-rule.
Lawmakers said the two houses of parliament agreed unanimously Wednesday to look at the charter and consider whether to implement changes.
The United Nations today welcomed the release of 24 children by Myanmar’s armed forces, known as the Tatmadaw, and called for the acceleration of discharges in line with the commitment made last year by the Government to end child rights violations.
Last June, the UN and the Government of Myanmar signed an action plan that sets a timetable and measurable activities for the release and reintegration of children associated with Government armed forces, as well as the prevention of further recruitment.
According to a news release issued by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the 24 children were officially discharged today at a ceremony in Yangon, attended by senior officials of the Tatmadaw and the Government, as well as the UN.
“This release of 24 children is a welcome step in the implementation of the action plan by the Government and reflects its commitment that children should not, and will no longer, be recruited and used for military purposes,” stated UN Resident Coordinator in Myanmar Ashok Nigam.
“I call for the acceleration of the release of all children from the Tatmadaw and for the non-State armed groups to also do the same,” he added.
Myanmar is one of 14 countries – with armed forces or armed groups identified by the UN Secretary-General as committing grave child rights violations – working together with the UN system to end grave violations against children in situations of armed conflict.
Under the action plan to end and prevent recruitment and use of children in the Tatmadaw, the Government has agreed to: identify all children in the Tatmadaw and ensure their unconditional release/discharge; facilitate the reintegration of released children into their families and communities; and facilitate processes that seek to end child recruitment by non-State armed groups, among other measures.
The plan was the result of years of negotiation between the Government and the UN, on behalf of a Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting of grave violations of child rights in armed conflict (CTFMR), with the latter made up of various UN agencies and programmes, as well as international non-governmental organizations.
Speaking at the ceremony, Bertrand Bainvel, UNICEF’s Representative in Myanmar and CTFMR co-chair, said that “a series of discharges just like this must accelerate in the coming months in order for the Tatmadaw to quickly achieve the double objective of zero under-age recruitment and full discharge of those that are under 18 in the armed forces.”
Burma reaches deal with rebels to ease tensions
Ethnic Kachin rebels have reached an agreement with the government of Burma, also known as Myanmar, to ease tensions that have led to bitter combat between them for the past month.
Copies of the statement released by both sides Monday after seven hours of talks in southern China said the Kachin Independence Organization and the government’s Central Peace Committee agreed to de-escalate military tensions, open lines of communication and invite observers to attend their next meeting to be held before end of February.
Like Burma’s other ethnic minorities, the Kachin have long sought greater autonomy from the central government. They are the only major ethnic rebel group that has not reached a truce with President Thein Sein’s elected government, which came to power in 2011 after almost five decades of military rule.
Suu Kyi meets Park Geun-hye, South Korea’s first female leader
Both women lost their fathers to gunshots. Both also overcame that tragedy and rose to political prominence in countries where men dominate decision-making, buoyed in part by the legacies of their fathers.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader whose 2010 release from house arrest signaled the beginning of Myanmar’s transition from decades of military rule, met Tuesday in Seoul with Park Geun-hye, who takes office next month as South Korea’s first female president. Details were not immediately available.
The meeting between two of the most prominent women in Asia spotlights a tragic coincidence in their family history: Suu Kyi’s father, Gen. Aung San, was killed by assassins in 1947 while Park’s, President Park Chung-hee, was assassinated by his intelligence chief in 1979.
Both women have benefited from their late fathers’ reputations. Even as she has blazed her own political trail, the 67-year-old Suu Kyi represents to many of the voters who sent her to parliament last year a link with her father, a legendary independence hero. Park, who is 60, enjoys strong support among older South Koreans with memories of the rapid economic growth during her father’s rule.
Suu Kyi’s trajectory, however, has been one of a dissident, while Park has built a political career as a ruling party lawmaker owing much to her father, a dictator who took power in a 1961 coup and ruled South Korea with an iron fist until he was killed 18 years later.
"Park carries family baggage that sets her away from the image of the pro-democracy movement, while Suu Kyi stands on the other side as an icon of democracy," said Lee Shin-hwa, a professor of political studies at Korea University in Seoul.
Democracy has firmly taken root in South Korea since the death of Park’s father and a peaceful transfer of power more than a decade later. Myanmar, with a reformist government in place but the military still in the background, is nurturing a fragile democracy.
The meeting between Suu Kyi and Park will be the latest in a series of high-profile exchanges between their countries, including reciprocal visits last year by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Myanmar’s President Thein Sein, both heading delegations keen on bolstering economic cooperation. Thein Sein also promised Lee in May that his country would no longer purchase arms from North Korea, a foreign policy shift welcomed by Seoul.
Lee’s visit was the first by a South Korean leader since 1983, when North Korean agents bombed a delegation visiting Myanmar, killing 17 South Koreans and four others but missing then-President Chun Doo-hwan.
During her five-day trip, Suu Kyi is scheduled to attend the opening of the Special Olympics, a biennial global event that South Korea is hosting in the alpine town of Pyeongchang for the first time, organizers of her trip say. The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate will then receive a human rights award in the city of Gwangju, where a 1980 uprising was crushed with deadly force by the then-military government.
Myanmar’s nearly 2-year-old reformist government has abolished a ban on public gatherings of more than five people that was ordered in 1988 on the day a military junta took power after crushing nationwide pro-democracy protests.
The state-run Myanma Ahlin newspaper reported Tuesday that Order No 2/88 was abolished as it was not in line with a section of the constitution that says existing laws should remain valid as long as are not contrary to the constitution, which guarantees basic rights such as freedom of expression.
The order had been applied selectively to crush dissent against the military regimes that held power until the elected government of President Thein Sein took office in 2011. His administration has instituted political liberalization, including lifting strict censorship.
The order had declared “Gathering or marching in processions and delivering speeches on the streets by a group of 5 or more people are banned.” The junta used many catch-all or vaguely defined orders and laws as a means of suppressing dissent, and courts generally handed out stiff sentences, jailing thousands of political prisoners. Most have been freed under amnesties promulgated by President Thein Sein.
In December 2011, a “Peaceful Assembly Law” was implemented specifically allowing public protests. However, permission must be obtained in advance, without which organizers are subject to penalties including prison terms. Several people have been arrested under the statute.
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is flying to Hawaii to accept a peace award.
The lawmaker and Nobel Peace laureate will deliver an address at the Rotary Global Peace Forum meeting in Honolulu and accept an award lauding her commitment to nonviolent activism and human rights. The trip will be her first to the American island state.
Rotary is a global humanitarian organization with more than 1.2 million members.
Suu Kyi flew out of Myanmar’s main city of Yangon on Thursday. She is also due to visit South Korea to attend the opening ceremony of the 2013 Special Olympics.
Suu Kyi spent most of the last two decades under house arrest in Myanmar but traveled abroad last year amid a wave of reforms that have opened the country.
Myanmar to allow daily private newspapers
Myanmar will allow private daily newspapers starting in April for the first time since 1964, in the latest step toward allowing freedom of expression in the long-repressed nation.
The Information Ministry announced on its website Friday that any Myanmar national wishing to publish a daily newspaper will be able to submit an application in February. New papers will be allowed to begin printing April 1 in any language, it said.
The move was an expected part of new press freedoms introduced in the former military dictatorship as part of reforms President Thein Sein has introduced since taking office last year.
Private dailies were once vibrant in the former British colony, previously known as Burma, but forced to close when late dictator Ne Win nationalized all private businesses in 1964.