Monday, August 9, 2010

Burma’s Maritime University gaining popularity

August 9th, 2010

Kong Janoi, IMNA : Staff members at the Myanmar Maritime University report that increasing numbers of students are applying for the university’s programs, despite the school’s increasingly competitive admission standards.

The Myanmar Maritime University, located in Thanlyin city on the outskirts of Rangoon, is controlled by the Burmese government’s Ministry of Transport. The university was founded in 2002, and according to its official website, aims to produce qualified “Naval Architects, Ocean Engineers, Marine Engineers, Marine Electrical Systems and Electronic Engineers, Port and Habour Engineers, River and Coastal Engineers and Navigation Officers.”

A staff member informed IMNA that seats at the university are given to 450 students, based on their university entrance examination results, an exam that students take at the close of high school. Candidates must apply through the country’s university’s entrance application process, in which they prioritize which courses of study available in Burma they would like to enroll in.

Admittance is not based on test scores alone; the staff member interviewed told IMNA that the university was only opened up to female applicants in 2008, and only 90 students out of a class of 450 individuals are allowed to be women.

The staff member interviewed claimed that women are not believed to have the physical fitness needed for a career in Burma’s maritime industry, and are therefore only admitted to majors related to onshore employment, such as port management. “Generally speaking, women are weak in physicality. So as seaman need to be strong, they [Burma's Ministry of Transport] will not allow females to go to sea and has limited number the of [female] students who can enter the university.”

A Rangoon-based journalist stated that Burma’s maritime industry represents an area where the country needs to strive for gender-equality.

“There are many jobs in shipping that women can do. Besides this is not a relevant reason to say that women are weak because there are many strong women who can do the job better than men. This is not fair for women.”

A mother of two from Rangoon informed IMNA that concern for her daughter’s welfare caused her to prevent her female child from applying to the Maritime University; she says felt no such concern for her son, who is a graduate of the university and who now works in Burma’s shipping industry. This woman claims that the salaries earned by maritime workers far exceed those of most Burmese citizens.

“As you know, there is a lack of job opportunities in our country, when we think which job can earn more, it is only a job as a seaman,” she explained. “As soon as you are on board, you will earn 1,000 USD a month, which is a big amount of money for us. We were very happy when our son sent back money last month.”

This woman also reported that working on different shipping routes earned maritime workers varying salary amounts.

“My son has gone with the “East Way” line which is shipping from Burma to western countries, like France. This line is better. Some shipping lines within Asia, [the workers] can earn less. You have to know this before you choose the line. It is expensive to start getting work on those better paying ships [because bribes are necessary],” she added.

Students who fail to gain admittance to the Maritime University are not totally devoid of options. Under the amendments made to the Myanmar Merchant Shipping Act in 2007, individuals can apply to one of Burma’s many shipping lines for an apprenticeship, after which they may receive a “certificate of competence”.

Piracy crackdown aims to boost Burma’s film and music industries

August 6th, 2010

Kong Janoi, IMNA : Recent police crackdowns on pirated copies of Burmese music and films in the cities of Rangoon and Mandalay are expected to provide an economic boost to Burma’s struggling entertainment industry.

A resident in Burma’s capital city, Rangoon, told IMNA today that the streets of Rangoon are currently completely devoid of vendors selling pirated copies of Burmese films or music. The crackdown is reported to have been in effect since May 2010.

“Before, we could find some pirated copies everywhere, although it was illegal to buy them, because the venders bribed the police to [allow them to] sell them , but now they [venders] cannot bribe the police anymore. The police have even give some money to people who informed them about pirated CDs and DVD [being sold],” she said.

This source reported that the crackdown includes only Burmese films productions. Film vendors selling pirated western and Korean films can still be seen on Rangoon’s streets, yelling for customers.

“The police were paid to crack down on pirated copies of Burmese film and music productions. The other films, like Korean movies and western movies, they are not paid [to confiscate] so who cares?” she said.

Representatives from Burma’s entertainment industry complained to The Irrawaddy newspaper on June 29th, 2007, that widespread piracy of Burmese music and film were driving both industries to the brink of collapse; the Burmese government’s periodic attempts to stifle piracy were deemed too weak to be truly effective.

According to a journalist in Rangoon, the orders for this most recent, and more stringent, attempt to quell piracy were issued by the Burmese government after insistant complains from representatives of the country’s film industry.

“The serious crackdown happened when [film] director Maung Myo Min’s group demanded that the government enforce the laws three month ago. After that they [the police] have arrested many vendors in the cities of Rangoon and Mandalay,” he explained.

The police headquarters in Rangoon were not available for comment.

A travel agent in Rangoon informed IMNA that airports have become the sites of police searches for contraband pirated material, and that her agency is now taking care to warn customers of the situation before they attempt to fly out of the country.

“The airport authorities check everything, and if they see some pirated CDs and DVDs, they will bring travelers to the Special Police. They [the Special Police] will fine them about 10,000 Kyat [US $10] . So to avoid trouble and fines, we recommend our customer buy legitimate one,” she said.

Buying legal DVDs and CDs is an excessive expense for most Rangoon dwellers, IMNA’s first source in Rangoon reports. She claims that legal DVDs and CDs cost around 2,000 kyat [US $2] each, while pirated copies cost as little as 400 kyat [$0.40]. Barring this option, individuals with internet access (including herself, she admits) can always download entertainment for free.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Moulmein University students struggle with internet research

August 5th, 2010

Jaloon Htaw : Students of the natural sciences at Moulmein University, in Mon State, complain that they are ill-equipped to conduct internet research-based projects, which they say are being assigned this year for the very first time in the university’s history.

According to a final year Chemistry major, this is the first school year in which he has been asked to complete projects using internet research. He claimed that he and his fellow natural science majors are struggling for a variety of reasons. Students are not permitted to use university computers, so they must instead pay to use private computer and internet centers; poor power supplies to the city of Moulmein often mean that these centers have little or no internet connection.

The students themselves pose another problem, as very few have any sort of understanding of how to conduct academic internet research, and many have never before used the internet at all.

“When we type the topic of what the teacher gives us [into the internet search engine], there are many kind of headlines [results] that appear. We don’t know what headline we should choose. Some we don’t understand. Sometimes the connection cuts off while we are still making a choice. We never had to do this last year, this is the first time we have had to find something from the internet,” he said.

According to a final year Zoology student, Zoology majors have been asked to complete internet research project on top of their regular schoolwork, which she explained involves hands-on research such as dissection projects. She explained that students are usually placed in groups of 10 for internet projects; such large groups are reportedly necessary due to the small number of internet centers in the city. She and other students were unanimous in their claims that there are only around 10 internet centers in Moulmein city, and nearly 10,000 students at the university.

Professors have reportedly informed their classes that internet projects are in their students’ best interests.

“As for attending school this year, the rules are strict. The professors said that we are finishing school but we don’t have practical experience, so they are forcing the students to do it [conduct internet research],” the Zoology major explained.

According to a former Moulmein University student, professors’ desires to broaden their students’ educational experiences with internet research projects is admirable, but highly impractical due to lack of access and students’ inexperience.

He explained, “The computers and internet at school are only for professor and teacher use. The students are never allowed to use them. Research like that is good for their [the student's] education but there are not enough internet centers and also some students have no experience with using the internet. I heard about students complaining.”

Yephyu Township villagers flee from people’s militia plans

August 3rd, 2010

IMNA : About 100 villagers have fled from Puckpinkwin village in Kaleinaung Sub-Township, in Tenasserim Division’s Yephyu Township, after they were ordered by Burmese military battalions to form a new military-controlled people’s militia.

Villagers still remaining in Puckpinkwin informed IMNA that the refugees fled to both Ye Township and the Thailand-Burma border area after the battalions arrived in the village in mid July of this year.

According to a villager who recently arrived at the Thai-Burma border, Lieutenant-Colonel Zaw Lin and soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 282 and Infantry Battalion (IB) 273 arrived in Puckpinkwin village on July 14th ; both battalions are based in Kaleinaung Sub-Township. The battalions reportedly ordered that all male villagers between the ages of 18 and 50 years old gather in the center of the village; the order also included monks residing in the village. There, the male villagers were required to draw lots to see who among them would make up the 40 men required by the battalions to form the new people’s militia.

“The houses who have no boys, one girl [was sent] to draw lots, if the girl won [as spot in the people's militia], they [the soldiers] took a photo of the girl [as a threat]. If the girl’s husband was not at home [away for work], we needed to call them back home. As for the monks [who drew a spot in the militia], they need to change to be a person [revoke being a monk],” this refugee explained to IMNA.

A villager remaining in Puckpinkwin village, who asked that his age and identity be concealed, told IMNA that after the new militia members were selected, men and their families began to flee from the village, despite how they’d fared in the drawing.

“The villager who won in drawing lots and the villager who did not win, all of them left from the village, now [remaining] in the village are just the old men and girls,” he explained.

This villager told IMNA that the mass exodus of men and their families had caused LIB 282 and IB 273 to abandon their plans of forming a people’s militia. However, this villager claimed that before leaving PuckpinKwin, the battalions forced 10 households situated outside of the village to move into the central community, and gave orders that all individuals desiring to leave the village to work on plantations must for each trip ask permission from the village’s headman, and pay a fee of 200 kyat.

According to this individual, before the Burmese government and the New Mon State Party (NMSP) reached a cease-fire agreement in 1995, PuckpinKwin village contained 500 households. Reportedly, large amounts of NMSP activity in the area incited the Burmese army to torch the village and abuse the villagers in the time just before the cease-fire was established. Large amounts of villagers moved to safer locations, and currently. Puckpinkwin is only 300 households strong.

Woman tells tale of abuse in Rangoon Division

August 2nd, 2010

Kong Janoi, IMNA : A woman taking refuge on the Thai-Burma border claims that she fled her home, after abuse at the hands of that township-level authorities in her village in south Dagon Township, Rangoon Division made life for herself and her family unbearable.

Mya Thein Khine, of Karen and Burmese heritage, told IMNA that local authorities used their political powers to harass , imprison, and fine her husband and brother-in-law; she and her husband fled to the Thai-Burma border three months ago.

Mya Thein Khine explained to IMNA that south Dagon Township’s chairman U Khin Zaw and township secretary U Hla Sein, who were appointed to those positions after Burma’s military government reformed the local administration in 2009, repeatedly accused Mya Thein Khine’s husband, an ethnic Shan man, of being connected to Shan armed groups, simply because the couple had immigrated to Yangon Divison from Shan State looking for new business opportunities.

Mya Thein Khine reported to IMNA that the township authorities’ accusations and abuse were groundless and discriminatory.

“Because my husband is Shan, they [local authorities] accused him of being a Shan rebel group member. We are citizens in this country. We have ID cards. We have the right to move everywhere in the country. We did nothing wrong against the country. They do not have an evidence to prove that he is a Shan armed group member.”

Living in 168 quarter in South Dagon she also informed that her sister’s husband, who lived with the family, was arrested and sent to jail for singing a song that local authorities found offensive.

“He was just singing in the street on the way back home after drinking with his friends. They thought he sang indirectly to them about what they had done to people [human rights abuses]. So they accused him of disrespecting authorities and ordered the police to arrest him. We had to give police 20,000 kyat [20 USD] in order to get his release,” she said.

“It is not much money but for poor people like us, we struggled to get it,” she added.

Although her brother-in-law was released after bribing the police, Mya Thein Khine reported that the case is still ongoing because the local authorities wanted to continue to punish her brother, who is still living in Dagon Township.

“The local authorities are not satisfied with the release of our brother-in-law so they are being overly harsh with him,” she said.

U Aung Myo Thein from The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners informed IMNA that cases like those of Mya Thein Khine’s family are common in Bumra. He reported that local-level authorities have been given increased legal and executive power since the Saffron Revolution.

“People can be arrested for expressing their dissatisfactions in Burma. They will be accused of being rebels. After the authorities give the title to those who complain to them of being ‘rebels’, they can arrest them at any time. There is no further investigation as to whether their accusation is right or wrong. Before, the Military Intelligent Unit and the Police used to investigate the cases and arrest people but after 2007, even pro-junta associations such as Union Solidarity and Development Association can arrest people which is not the correct thing to do. That’s why people may choose to flee from their homes after they feel insecure in their [native] places,” he said.

HIV increasing among Burmese migrant workers, survey claims

July 30th, 2010

Min Taw Lawe, IMNA : According to the Pattanarak Foundation, a Thai non-governmental organization, a recently conducted HIV survey in Thailand’s Kanchanaburi province has revealed that 3% of the 300 Burmese migrant workers tested were HIV-positive.

Testing for the survey took place from July 20th to July 26th, amongst 300 Burmese workers in the VITA FOOD Factory in Tahmaka District, Kanchanburi province. Medical professionals that conducted the exam informed IMNA that the survey’s results indicate that HIV is on the rise in Thailand’s Burmese migrant worker population.

“People are lacking in knowledge of HIV prevention education…None of them use condoms when they have sex. That’s why it is easy to spread HIV virus among the migrant workers,” a medic explained.

Sources speculated to IMNA that many Burmese migrant workers are afraid to get tested for HIV, due to cultural prejudices against sex/HIV education. Naw Htoo from Thailand’s Phamit2 program, claimed that survey takers had to rely on the VITA FOOD factory manager to force unwilling workers to participate in the survey; Burmese migrant workers frequently have tenuous legal status and must heed the dictates of their employers.

“We had to negotiate with the factory authorities to test people in the factory, otherwise no one would come and get tested. Only when the authorities said that they would fire the ones who would not come, did people come to get tested,” Naw Htoo explained.

The VITA FOOD factory work force is comprised of 15,000 people, but only 8,100 are Burmese workers with legal Thai work permits. Of these legal workers, 300 Burmese migrant workers were selected for testing. According to medic Saw Abow, five women and four men were confirmed to be HIV-positive; an additional 10 people’s test results were unconfirmed, are still considered at risk for HIV.

He added that the Pattanarak Foundation plans to report the survey’s results to the Thai Health Organization in Kanchanaburi in order to obtain antiretroviral drugs for the HIV-positive patients in the VITA FOODS factory.

According to the Phamit2 project manager, the Pattanarak Foundation plans to initially focus on HIV testing among migrant worker populations, and then move on to testing for syphilis.

Saw Abow reported to IMNA that after conducting testing in three provinces – Ubonrathani, Kanchanaburi, and Kalasin – Pattanarak medics confirmed 11,000 syphilis cases, signaling a serious need for sex/STI- related education in all three regions.

The Pattanarak Foundation, which is run under the Phamit2 program, is supported by Global Fund in its fight against HIV/AIDS and syphilis within disadvantaged populations in Thailand. The foundation is also involved in community development, culture heritage preservation, and environmental conservation.

USDP claims to have “same goals” as Mon political party

July 30th, 2010

Jaloon Htaw : Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) organizer General Ohm Myint has informed audiences that the party shares the same democratic goals as the All Mon Regions Democracy Party (AMRDP), the only all-Mon political party campaigning in the 2010 elections.

According to witnesses, the statement was made during the first week of July, when General Ohm Myint traveled from Naypyidow to Mudon town to spearhead the party’s ongoing political campaign in the Mudon Township; the General used the allegation of being “the same” as the AMRDP to defend the USDP’s ongoing campaign to register 50 new members from each village in Mon State.

“We are the same like the Mon Party [in goals for democracy]. So you can vote for our party. We will take only 50 people from each village. After that [the rest] can vote for the Mon party,” a member of the USDP in Mudon town quoted Ohm Myint as saying.

The USDP is the official Burmese government-backed political party running in the 2010 elections. According to the Burmese section of the British Broadcasting Corporation on July 6th, the party replaced the former Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), a civilian-based social organizing program that was disbanded in early July.

This USDP member informed IMNA that General Ohm Myint traveled from Naypyidow to Mon State in early July, after the USDP’s campaign in Mudon Township proved to be largely unsuccessful.

“When we organized [for the elections], no one was interested. Now that General Ohm Myint has come to organize [the people], we have gotten successful,” he added.

According to this source, the General’s success has been demonstrated by the implementation of a new USDP recruiting program in every village in Mudon Township; in each Mudon village, 5 individuals have been appointed as USDP village leaders, and charged with the task of each recruiting 10 individuals for the party. This is intended to supplement the party’s original recruiting method in Mon State, which involved ordering village headmen themselves to recruit 50 USDP members from their fellow villagers. Village headmen reported in IMNA’s July 8th article that they were struggling to gain interest from community members.

The General’s new recruitment system and ongoing “pro-democracy” campaign is, according to UDSP insiders, expected to be extended throughout Mon State and Mon-controlled areas, competing with other political groups that are already working in the region, including the AMRDP and the Union Development Party (UDP), which plans to campaign in Tenasserim Division.

Phyo Min Thein, chairman of the UDP, complained to IMNA this week that the conversion of the former USDA into the USDP has already left the latter with an unfair boost of finances and government support, making the group’s basis and goals wholly undemocratic:

“We [in Burma] have about 40 political parties. No one gets rights like the USDP. I think, the USDP should not use a power over democracy parties and other political parties. After changing from the USDA to the USDP, now they [the USDP] are using the USDA’s finances. They are not obeying the rules. We are saving up what they are doing [that is] unjust, and will report it to the Election Commission”.