21 October 2010

Myanmar unveils new flag

YANGON - Military-ruled Myanmar unveiled a new national flag on Thursday, just two weeks before an election that the government calls a major step in a transition to democracy but critics say is a sham.

Government offices replaced the old standard with the new one at exactly 3pm (4.30pm Singapore time) At a fire station in central Yangon, blue-uniformed officers lined up at attention during the replacement ceremony.

The new flag has horizontal stripes of yellow, green and red with a big white star in the middle.

The announcement of the new flag was made on state television just prior to the ceremonies, which were supposed to take place simultaneously all over the country.--Full story at The Straits Times

19 October 2010

'Health emergency' in Myanmar

MORE than half of all deaths in violence-ravaged eastern Myanmar are from treatable illnesses, with the junta blocking access to healthcare, according to a study published on Tuesday.

A 'chronic health emergency' in the ethnic areas strung along the border with Thailand mean that 59 per cent of deaths are preventable, said the report, titled Diagnosis: Critical.

The military lets civilians bear the consequences of its fight with minority rebels in the country through insufficient investment in healthcare, conflict and humanitarian abuses, it said.

Child mortality rates are nearly double the official national figure, while maternal mortality is three times as high, according to the study by groups including the Back Pack Health Worker Team and Burma Medical Association.--Full story at The Straits Times

15 October 2010

Junta blames Kachins for blast

YANGON - Myanmar's military government on Friday blamed 'insurgents' from the ethnic Kachin Independence Army for a deadly landmine explosion, the latest indication of a toughening stance against ethnic minorities ahead of elections.

The state-run Myanma Ahlin reported that a landmine blast on Wednesday in northern Kachin state had killed two people and injured one. It said the 'landmine was planted by KIA insurgents'. This is the first time that the junta has used the word 'insurgent' to describe the ethnic Kachin's 8,000-strong army since the group signed a cease-fire agreement with the junta in 1994 that ended a decades-long struggle against the government for autonomy.

The junta has tenuous control of many parts of the country where minority groups are strongest. It has reached cease-fire agreements with 17 ethnic minority rebel groups since 1989 and most have been allowed to keep their weapons and maintain some autonomy over their regions.

But ahead of the Nov 7 election, Myanmar's first in 20 years, the junta has asked the groups to turn their armed forces into a border guard force under virtual Myanmar military leadership. Most have refused. There is concern that the military could try to force the issue.

Critics call the upcoming polls a sham designed to cement military rule. Myanmar has been under military control since 1962.

Leaders of the Kachin Independence Organisation, a political wing of the KIO, who sought to run in the parliamentary elections, were neither allowed to register their political party nor run as independent candidates.--The Straits Times