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Qatar-based Ooredoo received its business licence on January 30, after a delay during which the government formulated new telecoms regulations. The formal green light is just the beginning, with the major task of building the infrastructure still ahead.
The challenges – legal and logistical – are many. Myanmar is the second biggest member by land area of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – more than twice the size of the Philippines – with a flat central region, mountains in the north, east and west and a fierce rainy season. Also, the ethnic composition of the country is complex.
"But the biggest challenge is obtaining the permits for our base stations, which are mounted on towers," Ooredoo chief executive officer Ross Cormack told Mizzima Business Weekly at the 2nd Myanmar Telecoms Infrastracture Summit at Yangon's Inya Lake hotel on February 17 and 18.
"We contracted with two tower companies to do that work for us: Digicel and Yoma Strategic Holdings," Mr Cormack said. "The sheer volume of applications is daunting. We're talking about thousands of permits and licences. Getting all the distribution agreements in place is another challenge."
The task is not only herculean for the telecom providers and their sub-contractors, the central regulator – the Ministry for Communications and Information Technology – has its work cut out for it, too. The MCIT already has the experience of the roll-out of the Myanmar Post and Telecommunications network. But the latest developments are something quite different: up to four operators, no longer part of the ministry, are simultaneously rolling out nationwide networks, with all the paperwork and coordination involved.
Will local tower companies or towercos play a role in the rollout of the infrastructure? Barons Tele-Link Service Company, one of sixteen Myanmar sub-contracters, is building towers in Sagaing and Mandalay regions for Myanmar Post and Telecommunication.
Director U Zaw Min Oo believes that Myanmar companies are not yet up to the task of working for Ooredoo and Telenor. "Frankly speaking, we lack the capital, technology and management skills. We have to catch up in order to be able to work efficiently as a sub-contractor for foreign firms. Hopefully we'll gain some experience so we can deal with Telenor and Ooredoo directly in the future."
One of the key issues is leasing land for tower sites. In Myanmar land ownership is not always clear and land is leased to users under specific terms, for instance for agricultural use, which can exclude all other uses.
Law firm VDB Loi analysed the licensing rules in a paper it distributed at the summit. In it Edwin Vanderbruggen and Christopher Dearing express regret that the government has not tackled the land use classification issue in the new rules. The authors had hoped for a rule that would eliminate the need to reclassify land if passive infrastructure is installed.
Towercos face logistical challenges too. They have to import steel, which is complicated in Myanmar. Mr Cormack: "The towercos also had to ask for a special approach, to allow them to be registered without having a license. Which the government helped them with. It is our experience that the government really wants all players to be successful. Because they want communication to be available in the way the bid challenged us."
Another issue is sharing infrastructure. Are different telecom providers going to build their own towers?
"The government seems to want this, but it would be crazy," said Alain de Wolff, director sales and business development at the Israeli MER Group. "It's bad for the environment and it would not be very cost effective. There's no reason why different providers could not use the same infrastructure. It makes so much more sense."
Ooredoo is willing to share and facilitate the competition, because, as Mr Cormack said, competition benefits the end user.
"We offered MPT to share our masts. And we asked them 'If you have place at a mast, please tell us'. It would save time to market, it would earn them revenue, and it would reduce cost for the customer. It's a win-win. We reached out, but MPT didn't respond to our offer yet."
Some areas in Myanmar are affected by conflict and will initially be avoided by Ooredoo, but it plans to be in every state and region by the end of 2015.
By that time Myanmar will enjoy the best quality network in Southeast Asia, said Mr Cormack. Because the network will be starting almost from scratch, the U900 and U2100 frequencies can be combined to offer a superb 3G experience.
"U900 has been deployed in quite a few countries, but not usually as a start-up. We are taking the advantage of better coverage and inbuilding penetration of U900 3G to complement U2100. We are going for a full 3G solution, with international connectivity designed to minimize latency. You have to have a U900 capable phone, though. Which is another challenge. Half of the phones in the market are ready for U900. We will offer some phones too."
Since the government began distributing its own K1,500 SIM cards people have been reselling them at up to US$150. Ooredoo agreed with the government to offer K1,500 SIM cards and announced it will supply enough to effectively eradicate the secondary market. The SIM cards will be cheap, but what about the phone charges and the price of top-up cards? Mr Cormack: "Currently it's too early to tell. We haven't finalized the pricing yet."
Time is running out. Both Telenor and Ooredoo have agreed specific timeframes with the government. If they don't start delivering service on time, penalties will kick in.
"Myanmar is in a hurry. The government wants nationwide mobile coverage fast," said Mr de Wollf. "But the government seems to operate at its own, slower, pace. Especially with regards to handing out the licences that allow subcontractors to start building. I think delays are in the air. Another aspect is the fact that the Telecoms Law of 2013 states that MPT has to be privatised. It doesn't mention a specific timeframe or date, it hasn't happened yet. So the government still has a financial stake in the telecom market, which complicates matters."
Ooredoo is obliged to start offering services within six months after receiving its license. Is it possible?
"Well, it's a challenge," said Mr Cormack. "There's no denying that. We're sitting down regularly with the regulators, local governments and bodies like the YCDC [Yangon City Development Committee]. The government has shown every intention of helping us fast-track this process. They need us and want us to be successful. Every official we've spoken to has been very encouraging. Of course in a start-up things are changing every day. But we've done start-ups before. We'll find a way."
This Article first appeared in the March 6, 2014 edition of Mizzima Business Weekly.
Mizzima Business Weekly is available in print in Yangon through Innwa Bookstore and through online subscription at www.mzineplus.com
Although no one has died in anti-Muslim violence in Sri Lanka, speakers at the March 6 discussion said that the language of hatred is similar to that in Myanmar where hundreds of Rohingya Muslims are reported to have lost their lives.
Held at the Central European University's School of Public policy in Budapest, "Buddhist Fury: violence against Muslims in Sri Lanka and Myanmar" sought to answer questions on conflict solution, develop policy ideas and share news on the current situation in both countries, with a purpose of releasing a policy paper to help deal with anti-Muslim hatred.
The audience heard that although Muslims make up just 9 percent of Sri Lanka's population, Buddhists, who number around 70 percent, appear to fear an increase in their population - fears which have also been expressed in Myanmar. But whereas violence in Myanmar has led to hundreds of deaths, attacks in Sri Lanka have been limited to mosques and the removal of Muslim womens headscarves, with a few people injured.
The Muslim minority expressed concern this week when Sri Lankan leaders of the extremist Bodu Bala Sena group visited Myanmar and met with 969 Movement leaders, extremist monk Ashin Wirathu.
Buddhist mobs in Myanmar have killed more than 200 Muslims and forced more than 150,000 people, mostly Muslims, from their homes. Many Rohingya Muslims now live in large camps in Sittwe, the capital of the Rakhine State in Western Myanmar.
Wirathu has denied any role in the violence, but critics have said that his anti-Muslim preaching has helped to inspire it. Like Bodu Bala Sena, he has criticized the halal slaughter method, and told Buddhists not to do business with Muslims, urging them to seize their land.
The government of Myanmar denies any massacre of Rohingya has taken place. A presidential spokesman, Ye Htut, in a recent interview with The Myanmar Times, described accusations that Rohingya have been persecuted as "baseless."
The Budapest panel debated different solutions to anti-Muslim violence, among them the involvement of 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Dr Richard Horsey - a Myanmar adviser for both the International Crisis Group and Myanmar Peace Centre - said that Suu Kyi had used her political capital on other unpopular causes, there is no reason she cannot speak up for the Rohingya.
Suu Kyi - for long a beacon of the Human Rights community - has been criticized for not playing a role in raising attention to the Rohingya's plight and easing the hatred.
The panel discussed tactics used by extremist Buddhist groups and how widespread anti-Muslim language had become in the two societies.
Professor Robert Templer, Director of the Centre of Conflict Negotiations and Recovery, asked Richard Reoch, President of Shambala, a Buddhist organization based in London, why are Buddhists killing?
It comes down to three factors, answered Reoch. Emotion, culture and identity.
Reoch said that the three factors together could make people forget about their faith and carry out acts that are unbefitting to them, regardless of the faith of the individual.
The plant in Myeik in the country's extreme south is scheduled to be completed by the first quarter of next year.
FGV Myanmar is a subsidiary of Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd (FGV).
"The joint venture company plans to be involved in many areas, but this year we will concentrate on the rubber industry," said FGV Group president and chief executive officer Mohd Emir Mavani Abdullah at a media conference after the joint venture agreement signing ceremony here.
He said the joint venture marks a new milestone for FGV in Myanmar since the last memorandum of understanding signed with PLM in September 2012.
FGV holds a 51 per cent equity interest in the joint venture, with PLM holding the remaining 49 per cent stake.
Besides constructing the plant with a target capacity of 24,000 metric tonnes per year, the joint venture company also plans to open another plant in Mon state and develop 30,000 ha of greenfield and 10,000 ha of brownfield land, he said.
However, he said, the greenfield development would be done in stages as the Myanmar government only allows a 70-year land lease for foreigners.
He also said the company's next focus would be on the rubber processing segment, with the possibility of venturing into the downstream business.
"It could be anything like slippers or maybe a small factory making tyres. We will continue to look into all possibilities and opportunities in the rubber industry here," he added.
As for the palm oil industry, Mohd Emir said FGV would only focus on downstream activities, adding the company has been distributing Saji cooking oil, made by FGV subsidiary Delima Oil Products Sdn Bhd, in Myanmar since last year.
"We want to further expand our product distribution in Myanmar and we hope once we reach 20,000 metric tonnes of supply, we can open a small packaging plant here," he said.
Last year, FGV exported about 14,000 metric tonnes of cooking oil products to Myanmar.
Mohd Emir said FGV is also seriously looking to venture into the sugar industry since Myanmar still has a sugar shortfall.
"The country only has 12 to 14 sugar mills. We are looking into the possibility of how we can co-invest with the government, either in raw sugar or refined sugar," he added.
He said the company is keen to work with local smallholders and might later look into the possibility of acquiring a sugar mill in the country. — Bernama
Myanmar's first census in 30 years — which starts at the end of March with United Nations help — will provide new data on the country, until now relying on figures from a flawed population tally in 1983.
But observers warn that controversy over rigid official definitions of ethnicity and entrenched mistrust of authorities after decades of junta rule risk damaging the country's fragile peace efforts and further inflaming religious tensions after waves of anti-Muslim violence.
Questions of identity go to the very heart of divisions in Rakhine State, where long-held animosity between Buddhist and Muslim communities erupted into bloodshed two years ago, leaving scores dead and displacing 140,000 people — mainly among the stateless Rohingya.
Violence has already flared in the camps on the outskirts of the state capital Sittwe as anxieties over the possible impact of the census run high.
Eindarit, 36, lay beaten and bandaged in a wooden shack following an effort to prevent dozens of fellow Rohingya from fleeing Myanmar by boat.
"He asked them not to leave because we have to take part in the census," said Hla Mint, a 58-year-old retired policeman and de facto local leader, speaking his behalf.
But it ended in violence. Eindarit was badly wounded, losing most of his teeth. The attack left him requiring strapping to his jaw.
"He was cut with knives on his head and hands and beaten with a pipe," Hla Mint said, blaming the clash on local human traffickers.
Suspicion runs deep
The incident adds weight to observers' fears that the census is stirring up new divisions in the already combustible state.
"I think this is going to create a huge mess. Everyone is extremely worried this is going to erupt into a new stage of violence," said Chris Lewa, of the Arakan Project, which campaigns for Rohingya rights.
Myanmar's 800,000 Rohingya — who are stateless, and considered by the UN to be one of the world's most persecuted minorities — face restrictions that hamper their ability to travel, work, access health and education and even to marry.
Many Rohingya are deeply distrustful of the government — which maintains that most in the community are illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh — and fear it could use its census findings to somehow extinguish their potential citizenship claims.
The survey form does not have a dedicated box for Rohingya, who are not one of the country's 135 official ethnic minorities — despite the fact many can trace their ancestry back generations in Myanmar.
But they can still identify themselves as Rohingya in the census — there is a box for "other" with space to write any group or name they wish to be identified as, which some see as a breakthrough in their efforts to assert their identity.
Many of Rakhine's Muslim population were listed as Bengali in the last census.
"We are labelled 'Bengali, Bengali' all the time. Evidence that we were born here, that we have been staying here, is crucial to us," Hla Mint told AFP.
Census fraught with risk
The census "risks inflaming tensions at a critical moment" in Myanmar's democratic transition, according to a recent study by the International Crisis Group (ICG), which added that controversial sections on religion and ethnicity should be dropped in favour of a focus on key demographic data.
It said the results, many of which will be released before Myanmar holds its first national polls since the end of junta rule, had "direct political ramifications" because the country has some constituencies carved out along ethnic minority lines according to population size.
But the government and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) have rejected those suggestions.
They say information on ethnicity is needed as part of efforts to provide a crucial snapshot of the country for national planning.
UNFPA's Myanmar chief Janet Jackson said most ethnic armed groups — apart from Kachin rebels near the Chinese border — had accepted the census.
She told AFP that efforts are under way to ensure everyone is counted in Rakhine "sensitively and with calm", adding the survey would not be linked to citizenship.
The UN aims to find census-takers among Rakhine's Muslim population to ease inter-communal mistrust.
But divisions fester and in Sittwe, Buddhist politicians expressed deep animosity towards their Muslim former neighbours.
"There is no such thing as the Rohingya ethnicity... it is just a term. Ethnic Rakhines know their intention. It is a political aim," said Shwe Maung, a senior member of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party.
The ICG said the previous census was believed to have deliberately under-reported the size of Mynamar's Muslim population, at four rather than 10 per cent.
Consequently, this census could show a misleading "three-fold increase" in the Muslim population, "a potentially dangerous call to arms" for extremists in the Buddhist-majority nation, the study said.
For Muslims trapped between risking defiantly identifying themselves as Rohingya and the on-going precariousness of statelessness, the path ahead is fraught with uncertainty, said Rohingya politician Kyaw Min.
"The future is very dark, gloomy — very dangerous," he told AFP. — AFPhttp://www.articles.myanmaronlinecentre.com/myanmar-census-risk-or-reward-for-rohingya-muslims/
Yangon, March 9 (IANS) Myanmar will be presented the award of World's Best Tourist Destination for 2014 by the European Union Council on Tourism and Trade soon, media reported Sunday.
The award is aimed at boosting Myanmar's tourism industry and promoting tourist attractions in the country which is famed for its unique cultural heritage not only in Asia but also in the world, Xinhua reported citing New Light.
The award is presented based on ethics for tourism industry, safety of tourists and preservation of cultural heritages designated by the UN Tourism Division, Unesco and the European Union Council on Tourism and Trade.
The World's Best Tourist Destination Award, introduced in 2007, is one of the highest accolades in the travel and tourism industry in the world.
Additionally, in the wake of dramatic increase in tourist arrivals, Myanmar plans to introduce travel insurance services. However, the number of applicants is still low.
To enhance development of its tourism industry, Myanmar opened four entry and exit points on the Myanmar-Thai border in August last year.
Meanwhile, visa-on-arrival facility for visitors from 48 countries and regions has also been offered to facilitate their travel to the country.
In 2013, Myanmar attracted over two million tourists, of whom 1.14 million entered through border gates and 885,476 through airports.
On 6 March, the Union Election Commission announced that two Arakanese parties – the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP) and the Arakan League for Democracy (ALD) – had been dissolved and a new combined party had been approved registration: the Arakan National Party.
DVB interviewed Khine Pyi Soe, the secretary of the former RNDP on the structure, power-sharing agreement and political aims of the newly merged party.
Q: What is the executive structure of the new Arakan National Party?
A: I think the policies are more important than the structure of the party. Firstly, we drafted a constitution based on the policies of the ALD and RNDP.
The structure of the party is as before. We have four levels: Central Executive Committee, Central Committee, township-level committees and village and quarter-level committees. The village and quarter-level committees elect township committees, township-level committees elect the Central Committee and the Central Committee will elect the CEC.
We haven't decided the number of chairpersons and secretaries yet. As of now, we have agreed to have a Central Executive Committee comprising 30 members; 15 each from either party. For the Central Committee, there will be 45 from each party. From those 90 members we have appointed 30 as a temporary CEC, meaning we will have a party conference within seven months at which we will make further steps. So, the current structure is temporary.
Q: How will you share leadership of the new party?
A: We are not using a power-sharing system. The leadership will be selected at the conference. Currently, we have chosen ALD's U Aye Thar Aung as leader with U Aye Maung from RNDP as deputy-leader. Our next move is to elect a chairman and secretary from the 90 Central Committee members.
Q: What are the political aims of the party?
A: The main aim is federalism; another is toward democratization, and the third is development of Arakan State.
Q: Is the merger of the parties in preparation for 2015 elections?
A: It is not only about the 2015 elections. The merger of the RNDP and ALD is a response to the needs of the Arakan people. 2015 is just a timeframe. The people of Arakan State see that there should be unity among Arakanese people to solve the problems and conflicts in Arakan State. We are trying to fulfill the will of Arakanese people.
Q: What is your party policy toward the Rohingya/ Bengali community?
A: Our party policy is that we don't accept the Bengalis nor do we recognise the name 'Rohingya'. We support the 1980 and 1983 laws. This is in fact the policy of our RNDP. The ALD will also need to accept this policy because it is the will of all Arakanese people.