* Report on 5th Conference on Media Development

I served as the rapporteur at this annual conference in Yangon and wrote the attached report (as pdf). The subtitle is “Inclusive Independent Media in a New Democracy.” The presentation of a study at this conference about gender equity in media gave me the idea for this story for Mizzima. The conference’s chief sponsor is the Swedish NGO International Media Support

Report_5th_Conference_on_Media_Development_in_Myanmar_2016 (1)

* Despite Political Thaw, Myanmar Refugees in Thailand Reluctant to Return Home

By Susan Cunningham
Mizzima Weekly, November 2, 2017

Despite the political reforms since 2012 and the 2015 ceasefire, 98,000 Myanmar refugees living in nine Thailand border camps display little readiness to return home, even as services are tapering off.

“What we thought would be the triggers to return home have come and gone,” said Sally Thompson, executive director of The Border Consortium. She spoke October 19 in Bangkok on a Foreign Correspondents of Thailand panel concerning the status of Myanmar refugees. The Consortium is responsible for providing basic humanitarian services such as food, shelter and camp management to nine camps along the northwestern Thai border.

Refugees’ reluctance to return home stems from several causes, Thompson said: “They see ongoing services skirmishes. They see the KNU [Karen National Union] demanding withdrawal of troops [from the state]. There hasn’t been any. In fact, there has been an increase. They want to see practical changes on the ground. A ceasefire agreement is not peace. They ask, ‘Who can guarantee my safety?'” Predominantly Karen (Kayah), camp residents also belong to Kayin, Kachin, Mon, Burman, Pa-O and Chin ethnic groups …   Thailand refugees reluctant – Mizzima

* 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

 

* 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 in 2016, 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 turn out to be useless as sources). 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. (I’ve since heard that men made that journey, but women and children stayed in Aceh.) 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