Saturday, October 27, 2012

Exodus of thousands after Myanmar unrest

Thousands of displaced people have surged towards already overcrowded camps in western Myanmar, according to the UN, after vicious new communal violence that has left dozens dead.
Injured Rakhine Buddhist men are seen at a hospital in Sittwe, the capital of Myanmar's western Rakhine state, on October 26, after being injured at the four different districts outside Sittwe. Seething resentment between Buddhists and Muslims erupted this week in a wave of fresh unrest in Rakhine state, prompting international warnings the unrest imperils the nation's nascent reform process.
Seething resentment between Buddhists and Muslims erupted this week in a wave of fresh unrest in Rakhine state, prompting international warnings the unrest imperils the nation's nascent reform process.
The official death toll stood at 67. Roughly half the dead were women, according to a state spokesman, who was unable to provide a casualty breakdown by community.
Tens of thousands of mainly Muslim Rohingya are already crammed into squalid camps around the state capital Sittwe after deadly violence sparked in June and the United Nations on Saturday said the latest fighting had caused a further 3,200 to make their way towards the shelters.
"An additional 2,500 are reportedly on their way," said Vivian Tan, spokeswoman for the UN's refugee agency.
Rakhine government spokesman Win Myaing on Friday conceded authorities were struggling to provide relief to an estimated 3,000 Rohingya who had escaped in boats as violence engulfed their townships and had docked on an island near Sittwe.
"The displaced are still on the island," he told AFP on Saturday.
He said troops were "taking control" of potential hotspots, adding the situation was now "calm" after security forces were deployed to the affected areas where violence erupted on October 21.
More than 150 people have been killed in the state since June, according to the authorities, who have imposed emergency rule in the face of continued tension in the region.
President Thein Sein has been widely-praised for overseeing sweeping reforms in the former junta-ruled nation, including the release of hundreds of political prisoners and the election of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament.
But the fighting has posed a threat to the reforms.
"The vigilante attacks, targeted threats and extremist rhetoric must be stopped," a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement released in Rangoon Friday.
"If this is not done... the reform and opening-up process being currently pursued by the government is likely to be jeopardised."
A spokesman for the European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she was "deeply troubled" by the unrest in a statement on Friday and urged "all parties to bring this senseless violence to an immediate end".
Myanmar's 800,000 Rohingya are seen as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh by the government and many Burmese -- who call them "Bengalis".
The stateless Rohingya, speaking a Bengali dialect similar to one in neighbouring Bangladesh, have long been considered by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted minorities on the planet.

Shinawatras cement hold over government

The much-anticipated new cabinet line-up shows signs of power being consolidated among the "Big Four" of the Shinawatra family.The reshuffle list reflects the broad power wielded by ousted prime minister Thaksin, his ex-wife Khunying Potjaman na Pombejra and his two sisters Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Yaowapa Wongsawat.

Thaksin and Khunying Potjaman are set to maintain his political interests mostly through the appointments of members of the so-called House No.111, including Pongsak Raktapongpaisal who is tipped for the post of energy minister, Phongthep Thepkanchana who is expected to become the education minister and Varathep Rattanakorn who is likely to appointed a PM's Office minister.
Mr Pongsak reportedly knew in advance about his position and sent a team to study the work at the ministry.

The former transport minister's main task will be to prepare for talks with Cambodia on both countries' overlapping claims in the Gulf of Thailand and possible collaboration and exploration in oil and natural gas.
He is also expected to bring foreign and Thai investors to invest in Cambodia's special economic zone.
Mr Pongsak has close connections with Pat Supapa, a prominent businessman in Cambodia and chief economic adviser to Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Mr Varathep, expected to oversee the Budget Bureau, will aid Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong.
The cabinet rejig also reflects Ms Yingluck's growing leadership clout and confidence. She retained Mr Kittiratt in his post despite strong criticism of the minister by several heavyweight politicians in her party.
Ms Yingluck also successfully pushed for Pradit Sintawanarong to replace Witthaya Buranasiri as public health minister even though Mr Witthaya has performed well and is part of a strong Pheu Thai faction led by Mr Pongsak.
Dr Pradit is a businessman in the property sector and was a shareholder in a subsidiary of Sansiri Group, which has good relations with Ms Yingluck.
Dr Pradit is expected to be tasked with pushing for the merger of the three national healthcare schemes.
Ms Yingluck reportedly picked government spokesman Sansanee Nakpong, who is tipped to be a PM's Office Minister and help promote the Thai Women Empowerment Fund.
Meanwhile, Ms Yaowapa continues to wield strong influence in this reshuffle, manifested in the retention of Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom in his portfolio. Mr Boonsong has come under a barrage of criticism over the rice pledging scheme.
Ms Yaowapa has also kept Woravat Au-apinyakul in the cabinet and landed him the position of science minister.
Red-shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan, who lost his ministerial seat in the reshuffle yesterday, denied rumours he received money from Thaksin for not getting a cabinet post.
"I never sell my soul. I swear to the spirit of the red shirts," he said.
Pheu Thai insiders said that after consolidating its power and distributing rewards to some old hands from the formerly banned House No.111 clique, it is now time for the Yingluck administration to show its political prowess.
The shake-up was not made to curb the impact of the upcoming censure debate or anti-government protests either, according to the sources.
The reshuffle is more of an attempt to get rid of some weak links that have stymied the government's performance, the sources said.
Observers from the red-shirt movement, however, said that if that is the case, then the continued presence in the cabinet of supposedly weak ministers such as Commerce Minister Boonsong and speculated PM's office minister Woravat only serves to underline the strong influence of the faction within the party led by Ms Yaowapa.
The party members viewed the upward move of red-shirt leader Nattawut Saikuar from deputy minister at the agriculture ministry to deputy commerce minister as more of a windfall for him than being a boon for the country or the Pheu Thai Party.
Sources in diplomatic circles said the cabinet changes will not affect the profile of Ms Yingluck who continues to be regarded highly by foreign envoys.
"We hope there won't be, and so far have not seen any negative signs of violence that will scarily shake up the Yingluck government," said a European ambassador who asked not to be named.