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Published by The Myanmar Times

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Published by: The Myanmar Times on Mar 10, 2014
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UNDER FIRE Senior general’s media lockout draws sharp criticism
WWW.MMTIMES.COM ISSUE 720 | MARCH 10 󰀭 16, 2014
Verdict in  journalists defamation casedelayed
U Myo Min Htet (left) and U Tin Ko Ko drink to their marriage at Yangon’s Excel Hotel on March 2. Attended by many members of the LGBT community, the wedding also sparked a public outcry on social media.
‘We’ll fight fairly to win 2015 election,’ says Shwe Mann
Lower House Speaker and USDP Leader says that a defeat would not jeopardise the peace and tranquility of the State.
SHARP EDGE TO DEBATE Gem dealers demand direct export right
 A VERDICT in the defamation case  brought against a senior reporter from
The Myanmar Times
 has been delayed for a second time. Ko Si Thu Lwin appeared in Madaya Township Court on March 7 to hear the  verdict of his case, which was filed over allegations that his coverage of a dispute in Mandalay Region “damaged the dig-nity” of electricity department officials.The verdict was originally delayed from February 21 to March 7. It will now  be handed down on March 18, according to court officials. Ko Si Thu Lwin wrote a series of ar-ticles for
The Myanmar Times
 last year covering a conflict over the installation of power lines in Madaya. Residents ar-gued the lines should bypass the town, rather than be run down the main street, for environmental and safety reasons.The controversy was first reported in the paper’s Myanmar-language edition on May 24. On May 29, Madaya town-ship electricity engineer U Nyan Htun submitted a complaint to police alleg-ing Ko Si Thu Lwin’s article contained “some words that damaged the dignity of the electricity department and its staff”.During an August 22 hearing, U Nyan Htun told the township judge that it was safe to install the power lines down the main street of the town. He said he had worked in accordance with the instructions of his superior.
MARCH 10 󰀭 16, 2014
Gotta have faith
A commission has been formed to draft two controversial new bills focused on “conversion and … balancing the increasing population” according to
The New Light of Myanmar
which in its roundabout way refers to the mildly alarming push to, in the very least, significantly complicate the process for those wishing to secure an interfaith marriage. With the proposed bills for what is being called the “Patriotic Act” having now received the endorsement of President U Thein Sein, the movement has gained some serious traction since its inception as a campaign spearheaded by monks. Front and centre of the proselytising movement is course, U Wirathu, whose crack team’s tireless work on the issue saw over 2 million signatures collected – a logistical feat that surely must have earned the admiration of those charged with wrangling data collection operations for the impending census. Among the tasks assigned to the commission is to “Seek advice from persons and organizations who are experienced in relevant subjects.” One can’t help but wonder if it would be gauche to suggest consultants with demonstrated expertise in the matter: Indonesia.
Burmese Gays
It would seem the gay couple whose recent union gave way to significant controversy can breathe a sigh of relief, with Eleven reporting that the police now say they have no intention of investigating or pressing charges.
The Voice
7 Day
Democracy Today 
 all ran with the line that the March 2 ceremony had stirred reactions from Buddhist monks, with online media outlets calling the event “illegal and immoral”.Had the authorities wanted to rain on their parade, however, section 377 of the Penal Code would have been the relevant legislation under which charges could have been pursued. This section, referred to in the Code as “Unnatural Offences” (sodomy is referred to euphemistically in Myanmar language as “going against nature”) reads thus:“Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with transportation for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”The law, a relic from British colonial times, reportedly presents significant problems in terms of gathering evidence and is generally only invoked when a party to the act in question makes a complaint about it. It is not unheard of for a wife to lodge a complaint against her husband if he repeatedly tries to convince her of the merits of “going against nature.” Most 377-category offences are thrown out of court.
Every day I’m buffering
Deputy Information Minister and prolific Facebook user U Ye Htut posted a YouTube video on his official page last week, accompanied by a somewhat cryptic statement: “Something exciting is happening in Myanmar.” Whether or not this is true remains to be seen, but the video entitled “HAPPY (We are from Myanmar)” appears to be a viral stunt with a local twist, piggybacking on a new single from US artist Pharrell. I say “appears to be”, because it’s still buffering and I haven’t actually watched it yet. The irony of U Ye Htut posting videos as though people would allocate precious bandwidth and time to watching them is rarely lost on his followers, who are often quick to point it out. “The length of the video is 3:13 ... it takes 19 minutes to view until the end for me. I am using MPT GSM phone internet. About 16 minutes is wasted because of MPT,” commented one Facebook user.
Than Shwe 3D 
Satirist Zarganar is looking to take on the role of assistant director in an upcoming Than Shwe biopic, and is apparently set to enter talks with Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh with a view to collaborating. The ever-cheeky Zarganar told DVB that finding an actor to take on the role of the former dictator shouldn’t be too much of an ask “as many people in Burma, perhaps unfortunately, bear his likeness”. The script for the project is reportedly yet to be fleshed out, but one local cinephile said he hopes it will be presented in flashback format, à la
The Iron Lady 
 starring Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher: long flashbacks interspersed with cut-tos of Than Shwe in his twilight years, shuffling around the tunnels of his Nay Pyi Taw bunker.
Headline of the week
A pointer on the front page of
 The New Light of Myanmar 
 on March 8 offered readers a tantalising glimpse of what they could expect to see inside: “Bullock carts still useful for transporting goods between villages.”It transpires that bullock carts are, indeed, still useful for transporting goods – and are preferred over motorized vehicles by the sample group of villagers in Meiktila apparently quizzed on the matter. The reasons listed were twofold. The operating costs on an ox cart are lower than that of a car or motorbike. They are also better suited to the roads in rural areas – or lack thereof.
News in brief:
 Telenor billboard on Sule Pagoda Road a contender for world’s longest 
Next week:
Man laments running out of business cards at Strand happy hour, describes it as “a disaster”
The local lowdown & best of the web
online editor
Kayleigh Long
1970s socialist propaganda magazine
Date unknown.
Once was Burma...
Page 2
A feature on traditional boxing from post-war British publication
Burma To-Day 
Courtesy of Pansodan Gallery
 Thomas Kean
THE closure of Médecins Sans Fron-tières operations in Rakhine State is only “temporary”, a government health official has insisted, but a sen-ior state official says it will likely be at least seven months before the aid group is allowed to resume activities in the trouble-hit region.Ministry of Health deputy director general U Soe Lwin Nyein told
The  Myanmar Times
in Sittwe
that MSF’s expulsion from Rakhine State would not be permanent. However, he said he could not estimate the duration of the ban.Rakhine State Department of Health director U Aye Nyein said the ban was unlikely to be rescinded until October or November. He said fears that this month’s census would prompt more communal violence had contributed to the decision to evict the organisation’s staff.
The Myanmar Times
 understands, however, that MSF has not been in-formed that the ban is temporary, or  been offered a date for a possible re-sumption of services.The group has declined to com-ment publicly on the situation while negotiations continue, but reports suggest MSF has been instructed to  withdraw its staff from Rakhine as soon as possible. There are concerns that the de-cision to evict the international aid organisation, which has worked in Myanmar for more than 20 years and has more than 600 staff in Rakhine State alone, has potentially put hun-dreds of patients’ lives at risk, particu-larly those with HIV/AIDS or TB who rely on regular access to medicine.UN agencies and major INGOs  working in the region say local health organisations lack the facilities and human resources to replace the ser- vices provided by MSF. Patients in remote and rural areas, which aid or-ganisations have been serving via mo- bile clinics, are said to be particularly  vulnerable. Another key area of concern is the potential shortfall in treatments for the Rohingya Muslim population, many of whom face restrictions on movement that limit their access to the state health system. A government statement released on March 2 indicated that the authori-ties would consider allowing MSF to resume operations in Rakhine if cer-tain conditions, which were not speci-fied, are met.But U Soe Win Nyein insisted the national government fully expects MSF to resume work in the state. “[It has been] temporarily suspended. It is not permanent,” he said.He added that the Ministry of Health was capable of managing the health needs of “the whole commu-nity” in Rakhine State, adding, “We don’t need to lose any lives [because of the ban].”“The Ministry of Health is taking all the national health services to the community [including the IDPs] … The ministry is doing routine health services.” Asked why MSF was being pres-sured by the state government to leave Rakhine immediately, U Aye Nyein said the government fears staff from the organisation, which has  been accused by many ethnic Rakh-ine of favouring the Rohingya, may  be attacked if they are not moved out quickly.He said the government is also “afraid” that its staff could be targeted  by Rakhine community groups if it al-lows MSF to stay.U Aye Nyein said the state gov-ernment was also concerned about preventing “further social conflict at the end of [this] month [when] we  will start the census [and] we will be talking to both communities, Rakh-ine and Rohingya”.  While state and local authorities say all arrangements have been made for Myanmar’s first census in 30 years, a number of observers have cautioned that the census, particularly its ques-tions on race and religion, could in-flame tensions in some parts of the country, particularly Rakhine State. After the census is completed, the state government “will have nego-tiations with both communities and [maybe] in October or November” MSF will be allowed to return. Whether a temporary shutdown  will be enough to satisfy hard-line Rakhine community leaders is unclear. Since the MSF closure was announced, a number of other INGOs and UN agencies in Rakhine State have been the target of online threats.Meanwhile, a “watch group” of civil society representatives has been established in Sittwe to monitor INGO activities. Asked if the banning of MSF would encourage activists to target other in-ternational aid organisations, U Aye Nyein said it “depend[ed] on the ac-tivities of the organisation. They must have transparency about what they are doing for both communities.”
MSF ban temporary,Rakhine officials say
 A LOSS by the ruling Union Solidar-ity and Development Party in the 2015 general election would not be a setback for Myanmar’s peace pro-cess or the country’s transition to a democratic state, the party’s leader said on March 6. Thura U Shwe Mann told report-ers at a press conference in Nay Pyi Taw that regardless of who wins next  year’s election, he believes the peace process will continue unaffected. “If we lose, I don’t believe there  will be an impact on the peace and tranquillity of the state or on moving toward a democratic state,” he said.“We are trying to hold a free and fair election. If we lose, we will ac-cept the result of the election be-cause that’s the democratic practice.” The USDP will face its biggest challenger in the main opposition party, the National League for De-mocracy (NLD), but Thura U Shwe Mann said the USDP intends to put up a strong but fair fight. He said he has crossed party lines to work closely with NLD chairper-son Daw Aung San Suu Kyi since she entered parliament in 2012. “We welcomed Daw Aung San Suu Kyi when she came into parlia-ment. She also accepted the concept of national reconciliation. We have cooperated now to work to realise it,  but in the election [the USDP] will fight fairly to win,” Thura U Shwe Mann said. Though Myanmar started down a path of reforms three years ago under the government of President U Thein Sein, speculation has re-mained high that ex-Senior General Than Shwe and people allied with him remain influential in national politics. Thura U Shwe Mann did not comment on this issue specifically,  but he did say there are many peo-ple active today in Myanmar poli-tics and that almost all are trying to influence the 2015 election. No matter who wins, Thura U Shwe Mann said, the victorious party must give special attention to national reconciliation and working across political lines.Thura U Shwe Mann also touched on the upcoming national census be-ing carried out by the government  with help from the United Nations Population Fund. The census has been widely criti-cised by ethnic groups and academ-ics who believe it could further wid-en ethnic divides in the country. Thura U Shwe Mann said the census is needed for the sake of the country and should be carried out according to the deadline set by the government, but he also admitted that the process is not perfect. “There will be some problems during the census, but people will suffer if the government doesn’t do it,” he said. “I think the ministries will over-come the problems and will work in the best way possible to make the process a success. We, the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, are ready to help the process if they face prob-lems and request help.” But he warned that if the census  was halted now, it was unclear when the process could be restarted and completed.
USDP election defeat would not affect peace process
‘We don’t need  to lose any lives [because of the  ban].
U Soe Win Nyein
Ministry of Health
Nur Ha Tu holds her baby in the doorway of her hut in the Aung Mingalar ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine State, on March 5.
Photo: Fiona MacGregor

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