* Thai Elections Postponed As Violence Hits Tourist Territory

By Susan Cunningham
Forbes.com | May 15, 2014

Tourist alert! Three people are dead and 22 people are injured in Bangkok after a gunfire and grenade attack on a new protesters’ site early Thursday morning. The anti-government PDRC camp is close to the Democracy Monument–in the city’s prime tourist area.

The deadly violence achieved one of the immediate goals of the anti-election PDRC protesters: parliamentary polls set for July 20 have now definitely been postponed by the Election Commission. The commission’s secretary-general indicated Thursday that the elections are being postponed rather than cancelled: “The situation has to be right and accommodating for an election to take place … We don’t think this is the right time.”

Army Reacts to Fresh Bangkok Violence

Were members of the  UDD (United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship), the so-called Red Shirts who support the present Pheu Thai Party caretaker government, responsible for the shots and grenades last night?

As in most previous incidents–28 people have died since last November in violence related to the protests–we may never know.  The grenades and guns were wielded by occupants of a pickup truck that plowed through the protest camp. But the responses of the military and Electoral Commission certainly aren’t what the pro-elections UDD is seeking. The Army chief, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, warned Thursday that if unrest continues, “it will be necessary for the military to launch a full-scale effort to end the violence.” MORE

 

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* The Rohingya Pipeline

Traffickers’ jungle prison camps on the Thai-Malaysian border ‘operating for years’, say Rohingya migrants in Malaysia.

Susan Cunningham, Kuala Lumpur
Mizzima Weekly, August 20, 2015 

[This article appeared in Myanmar’s Mizzima Weekly print magazine in 2015 but not online. I decided to post it here more than a year later because the Rohingya homeland in northern Rakhine State is once again attracting international media coverage. Even Malaysian PM Najib  wants to take advantage of the crisis this round. The spotlight won’t last long. There was another brief international moment in spring 2015 when the overloaded boats were drifting around the Andaman Sea and various governments vowed at a high-profile multinational meeting in Bangkok that the recent arrivals in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand would be resettled in third countries within a year.  In the weeks after, though, I was unable to interest any international media outlets in why thousands of stateless Rohingya risk their lives to reach Malaysia each year or how they live illegally once they get there. Fortunately, Mizzima was interested.

As for that one-year deadline? Who knows or cares? When it was coming up, I emailed the NGOs and individuals that had appeared last year to have some knowledge and interaction with Rohingya  (not to be confused with the much greater number that tweet relentlessly, often spreading baseless rumors and phony images, but don’t do anything else). Only one person replied. She said she heard that the Rohingya that had arrived in northern Sumatra in 2015 had made their way across the Straits of Malacca to Malaysia, but she had no details. That movement is interesting because the Acehnese were very welcoming to their fellow Muslims last year; my guess is that the Rohingya wanted to join relatives in Malaysia. The trial in Thailand of more than 100 people involved in trafficking Rohingya ultimately convicted 62 persons, including an army general, two provincial politicians and many local businessmen. Malaysia has displayed much less interest in prosecuting alleged traffickers.  Twelve police officers were arrested but charges were dropped without a trial in March 2017. I know that, while not surprised by that outcome, Rohingya in Malaysia must be especially distressed that no Malaysian immigration officials were charged. How difficult would it be to trace the holders of those mysterious Maybank and CIMB accounts where ransom payments were deposited? It’s difficult to take the Malaysian government’s expressions of concern for Rohingya welfare too seriously.

It will be interesting to see if Justin Trudeau’s grandiose statements mean that Canada will begin to accept Rohingya for resettlement. At the time I wrote this article, the US was the only country resettling Rohingya from Malaysia; that had been the situation for many years. The conditions and work prospects for Rohingya in Bangladesh were far worse than in Malaysia even before  tens of thousands of Rohingya arrived there in in the final months of 2016, after fleeing attacks by the Myanmar army in their homeland of northern Rakhine State. Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh may therefore be the first priority for resettlement in a third country.]

While traffickers’ jungle prisons along the Thai-Malaysian border were first widely exposed by Reuter’s reports published almost two years ago, they have been well known to Rohingya in Myanmar and Malaysia for more than a decade.

Sultan Ahmed bin Ahmed Hussein, the new president of the Rohingya Society of Malaysia (RSM), arrived in Malaysia in 2012 by way of a border jungle prison. The 2001 Sittwe University graduate had been working in Rakhine State for GRET, a French non-governmental organization involved in agricultural development. After the 2012 communal riots, the French staff left the state and he was interrogated by the police. “They wanted money,” he recalled earlier this month. “Some of my friends were arrested. Some were shot and killed.”  After he left his home in Buthidaung to stay with friends in Maungdaw, he heard that back home “thirty police had descended on my house, so I knew I had to leave.”  His wife and four children are still in Myanmar (Burma).

Beginning with a Thai fishing boat, the cost and route of passage to Butterworth via Thailand were common knowledge in Maungdaw by then: 6,000 Malaysia ringgit (US$2,000) or the equivalent up front, followed by another 6,000 ringgit to be paid into traffickers’ bank accounts once the passengers had arrived somewhere in the vicinity of the Malaysian-Thai border. Continue reading

* As Myanmar looks to develop, a value-added revolution is needed in the countryside

By Susan Cunningham
Mizzima News
24 September 2016

Agriculture must be at the forefront of Myanmar’s anti-poverty strategies not only because nearly 70% of Myanmar’s population live in rural areas: of the total number of poor people, 84% reside in the countryside. More than half the workforce is employed in agriculture, yet the majority of farmers own less than 10 acres of planting land and lack access to electricity and clean drinking water.

These stark statistics from UNDP highlight what could arguably be termed the elephant in the room – the need to upgrade Myanmar’s agricultural sector but ideally in a sustainable way.

Backbreaking rice planting in Myanmar - by Hong Sar for Mizzima

Planting rice in Bago State, Myanmar.  Credit: Hong Sar/Mizzima

One man understands the challenges particularly well. Tin Htut Oo, an agricultural economist, retired as director-general of agricultural planning in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation (MOALI) in 2009. He is today CEO of Agribusiness and Rural Development Consultants and chairman of the Agriculture Group of Yoma Strategic Holdings.

A former advisor to President Thein Sein, as the chairman of the National Economic & Social Advisory Council beginning in 2012, he led a working group that drafted a policy paper, entitled “From Rice Bowl to Food Basket,” outlining pathways for modernization of the country’s agricultural and food sector. Earlier this year, group members presented the proposals to key ministers and officials in the agriculture, commerce, and planning and finance ministries and to … MORE

* Bangkok Shrine Bombing – Case (Pretty Much) Closed

BANGKOK–Two Chinese Muslims are set to go on trial in 2016 on murder charges stemming from last August’s bombing that killed 20 people and injured 125. Thai authorities don’t appear eager to probe into their accomplices or motives, however. Nor will they charge the two with terrorism, despite the web of foreigners implicated in the pipe bomb explosion at a popular Hindu-Buddhist shrine in central Bangkok.

The first man to be arrested, Bilal Mohammed, originally claiming to be a Turkish citizen called Adem Karadeg, was discovered August 29 in an apartment in a Muslim neighborhood of northeastern Bangkok. In the same apartment were several hundred forged Turkish passports and a cache of bomb-making components–suggesting that more attacks might have been planned.

Only in late September did Thai police claim that 27-year-old Bilal was the “backpack bomber” himself –the yellow t-shirted man who left his pack containing a 5-kilogram pipe bomb on a bench at Erawan Shrine shortly before the explosion. According to his lawyer, Bilal has now confessed to the crime; Bilal previously said he had arrived in Thailand–with the help of traffickers–four days after the bombing.       MORE

 

* Thailand’s Shrine Bombing – The Case for Turkey’s Grey Wolves

By Susan Cunningham
Forbes.com

The most likely perpetrators of the deadly Bangkok bombing last week were militant members of a right-wing Turkish organization infuriated by the Thai government’s forcible repatriation of Uighur refugees back to China. Anthony Davis, a veteran security analyst with IHS-Jane’s, made a persuasive case for the Grey Wolves on a panel at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand Monday evening.

He did not rule out the possibility that other foreign militant Muslim organizations could be responsible for August 18 bomb at the Erawan Shrine that killed 20 people and injured 126. He found it extremely unlikely, however, that it was the work of Thai dissident political groups or even of the Muslim insurgents in southern Thailand who have waged a separatist war in three border provinces for the past decade.

Some of the strongest evidence in favor of the ultra-nationalist Grey Wolves was the fury throughout Turkey that followed the Thai repatriation on July 9 of 109 Uighurs and the Grey Wolves’ visibility during the attacks on the Thai Embassy in Istanbul. A violent wing of the loosely organized pan-Turkic organization in recent years has taken up the cause of the Uighurs. MORE

* Do Myanmar’s Rohingya Really Need Citizenship Now?

By Susan Cunningham
Forbes.com

The more I learn about the plight of Rohingya, the stateless people of northwestern Myanmar, the more I think that foreign diplomats and op-ed writers may be wrong to be pushing the citizenship plank now. Perhaps there are more urgent priorities.

I have been reading and thinking about this since I talked recently with Lilianne Fan, a research fellow with the Humanitarian Policy Group of Britain’s Overseas Development Institute (ODI) think tank. She had just returned from her second visit to the four camps in Aceh State, Indonesia, which are sheltering nearly 2,000 Myanmar Rohingya and Bangladeshis that were rescued in late May from three boats abandoned by traffickers.

On one boat the 600-plus survivors had been adrift for more than two months and another 100 people had been killed in fighting among the passengers. She is a co-founder of the Geutanyue Foundation, an Aceh NGO that is among the many large and small organizations providing aid to the boat people. She has been visiting Myanmar, including Rakhine State, since the Cyclone Nargis disaster in 2008 … MORE

* Norodom Sihanouk’s wonderful, horrible life

Mao-Peng Zhen-Sihanouk-Liu Shaoqi in 1956--credit US Army

Mao, Peng Zhen, Norodom Sihanouk, Liu Shaoqi in Beijing, 1956

By Susan Cunningham, Guest Contributor

New Mandala

For more than a half-century, Dr. Milton Osborne was an observer of the wonderful, horrible life of Norodom Sihanouk, whose funeral ceremonies take place in Phnom Penh next week. Sihanouk  died in Beijing in October, 61 years after he assumed the Cambodian throne for the first time as the unlikely selection of the French colonial masters.  

Dr Osborne first met Sihanouk, then prince and prime minister,  when he was a young Australian diplomat posted in Phnom Penh in 1959.  Osborne then earned a PhD in history at Cornell, taught at the Australian National University and overseas universities, and worked for the United Nations along the Thai border during the early years of the Cambodian refugee crisis.

From 1982 to 1993, he returned to government service as Head of the Asia Branch of the Office of National Assessments. He is currently a Visiting Fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney. Dr. Osborne is the author of many articles and ten books about Cambodia, the region and the Mekong River.

They are so well written they can be read with pleasure and benefit by people without advanced degrees in the social sciences.  His newest book is Phnom Penh: A Cultural and Literary History. Published in 1994, Sihanouk: Prince of Light, Prince of Darkness is the definitive biography, though a smart publisher should order a new, updated edition that covers Sihanouk’s second reign as king and his final attempts to influence events in his homeland. 

Back in 1973—before the Khmer Rouge victory in the civil war–Dr. Osborne already made a persuasive case in Politics and Power in Cambodia: The Sihanouk Years  that the prince’s own economic policies and megalomanic personality led to his deposition by coup d’état in 1970.  On Sihanouk’s death, he wrote this obituary for the Lowy Institute.

Q: Was Sihanouk really that charismatic?

MO: Sihanouk was one of the few people I have ever encountered who deserves to be described as charismatic. On an individual basis he radiated charm and for Cambodians in particular he had a striking capacity to enthrall a crowd–for good or ill. Have a look at my account, pp.3-4 of the biography, for an account of the remarkable double act he and Sukarno performed in 1959 and which I was lucky enough to witness. 

But he could also ‘work’ a non-Cambodian crowd. So, at a soirée dansante in the palace which, again, I was lucky to attend, at around 1.30 am, and after the king and queen had left, he beamed at the rest of us and said, ‘Well, their majesties have gone, and I suppose the rest of you can go too now, but I am going to play until dawn and I do hope you will stay.’ And, of course we all did. MORE