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Dud stock trade by senator’s daughter exposes Cambodian tax loophole

A Cambodian senator’s daughter gambled U.S. $8 million on the purchase of shares in an American medical technology company through a Singaporean broker – a transaction conveniently completed before the adoption of a double taxation treaty between Cambodia and Singapore – regulatory filings reviewed by RFA show. Had the investment worked out as planned, Lau Sok Huy expected returns in the realm of $50-60 million, and could have avoided up to $12 million in Cambodian taxes. But the investment flopped. Seven years after she became the second-largest shareholder in Tomi Environmental Solutions Inc, Sok Huy is down some $6.3 million and furious, according to the company’s founder and a fellow shareholder familiar with the deal who spoke with RFA. The investment – equivalent to more than 3,000 years of the average Cambodian salary – is one Sok Huy will likely have to write off as a loss. Tomi’s share price has dipped so low that it currently risks losing its listing on the Nasdaq Capital Market. But the structure and sequencing of the deal sheds a light on how well-to-do Cambodians stand to benefit from the double taxation agreement. Such agreements are viewed by advocates as a boon to trade and investment between nations, but they can also offer a way for wealthy investors to avoid taxes. Regulatory disclosures filed during Sok Huy’s acquisition of the Tomi shares strongly suggest the deal – in which she loaned the money to her broker who had purchased the shares, and then took the shares as repayment for the loan – was tailored to benefit from the double taxation agreement. The loan behind the deal was signed in January 2016, but was amended in May of the same year, just three days after the tax treaty was signed. Sok Huy’s politically connected background raises questions about whether it was appropriate for her to benefit from the agreement. Her father, Lau Ming Kan, is a longtime senator for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, which has governed the country in one form or another for three decades. One of the final steps in any treaty becoming law in Cambodia – including the double-taxation agreement with Singapore – is ratification by the Senate where he sits. Sok Huy’s parents are also no strangers to investing in Singapore, a regional financial hub viewed by some as a tax haven. Her mother Choeung Sopheap, a confidante of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, holds $36.5 million in shares in a Singapore-based company that owns a Cambodian corporation with an exclusive license to import liquid natural gas to Cambodia. Those assets are among the more than $230 million in assets that RFA has identified as being held in Singapore by politically connected Cambodians. The DTA Double-taxation agreements, often referred to by the acronym DTAs, are designed to ensure that companies or individuals do not get taxed on the same profits twice when doing business overseas. When two countries sign a DTA, the hope is that it will promote trade and investment between both nations. This particular treaty appears to have paid off. By the end of last year, Singapore was Cambodia’s second-largest source of foreign investment, having barely figured in the rankings half a decade earlier. A business consultant with more than a decade’s experience in Phnom Penh told RFA they viewed the agreement as a net positive for Cambodia. “A DTA can help eliminate double taxation, and for investors coming into Cambodia, that’s fairly important. So, in that sense, they’re fairly useful, and also very widespread and standard around the world,” the consultant said, requesting anonymity due to the potential professional repercussions for speaking publicly on a sensitive topic. “Can the wealthy take advantage of them to reduce their tax bill as well? Absolutely,” the consultant added. “But they already have other means of doing so. So, of all the ‘sins’ here [in Cambodia], I wouldn’t see that as being a meaningful one.” That’s not an analysis everyone would agree with. In late 2016, the World Bank published a blog by two of its senior employees – Jim Brumby and Michael Keen – that asked whether tax treaties like DTAs are a “boost or bane for development” in lower-income countries, such as Cambodia. They were not convinced. “Developing countries have used them with the intention of boosting economic development. The evidence for that is weak,” Brumby and Keen wrote. “The problem is that tax treaties – and the international system of taxation more generally – are highly complex and have unleashed unforeseen consequences.” “Multinational companies, with much at stake, can use treaties to route income through third countries to exploit favorable tax treaties. Tax authorities, particularly in developing countries, are finding it hard to counter such ‘treaty shopping,’” Brumby and Keen added. Despite having assets and businesses in multiple countries, Sok Huy does not fit the traditional definition of a multinational company. But her family often behaves like one, as do many other powerful clans in Cambodia – negotiating sweetheart deals with the government that are unavailable to smaller businesses with less political clout and cash in the bank. If the Lau family’s lawyers and accountants have clocked on to the Singapore loophole, it seems likely the financial professionals advising Phnom Penh’s other leading families will have too. So how does it work? People pass by the Nasdaq Market Site in Times Square in New York City, U.S., Feb. 7, 2018. Credit: Reuters/Brendan McDermid The deal Between May and July 2015, Singaporean broker Boh Soon Lim snapped up $8 million of Tomi shares, then accounting for roughly 11% of the company, according to regulatory filings lodged with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the U.S. stock market regulator. He bought the shares in the name of Arise Asset Management Pte Ltd, a Singapore-registered company in which he is majority owner. In the SEC filings he described the money for the purchase as coming from Arise Asset Management’s working capital. The term refers to the total cash available to the firm…

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Targeted sanctions on arms sales key to ending violence in Myanmar: observers

Myanmar’s junta is using weapons purchased from abroad to commit “war crimes” against its people and must be targeted with new sanctions to end violence in the country, former military officers and political observers said Monday. On Friday, the United Nations human rights office in Geneva said in a report that countries should do more to prevent money and arms from reaching the junta, which rules through terror and repression. The office called for further isolation of the military regime, which it said had failed to govern effectively, suggesting U.N. members impose bans on arms sales and more narrowly defined sanctions to prevent its business network from gaining access to foreign currency. While the U.S., Britain, Canada and the EU have imposed sanctions on Myanmar since the military seized power in a February 2021 coup, several countries have continued to supply the junta with arms — most notably Russia, China and Serbia.  Speaking to RFA Burmese on Monday, former army Capt. Lin Htet Aung, who is now a member of the anti-junta Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), said sanctions are key to cutting the junta off from the modern weapons and raw materials it needs to maintain its hold on power. “The military’s domestic production capacity cannot provide all the weapons it needs for the army,” he said. “Missiles and heavy weapons and their accessories, as well as ammunition used by its armed forces, are all imported from abroad. All these things, as well as raw materials, have to be purchased from foreign nations.” The CDM captain said the military will continue to commit human rights violations, including bombing attacks on towns and villages, if the international community fails to level effective sanctions. On June 18 last year, the U.N. General Assembly approved a proposal to ban arms exports to the Myanmar military. One hundred and nineteen countries voted in favor of the resolution, while 36 countries — including China, India and Russia — abstained. Russian ally Belarus voted against it. Myanmar junta chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and his team inspect weapons and equipment at the Higher Military Command School in Novosibirsk, Russia, July 16, 2022. Credit: Myanmar military Ineffective sanctions Observers told RFA that the junta continues to obtain military equipment and technology via large domestic and international arms brokering companies. Hla Kyaw Zo, a Myanmar political analyst based in China, said sanctioning these companies would have a significant effect on ending the junta’s domination. “Western countries consider their own interests and big arms companies are more or less connected with the Western world, so this issue is difficult to discuss,” he said. “If the West blocks [these sales] effectively, it’ll be good, but I don’t think they will press on the issue.” According to a list compiled by NGO Justice For Myanmar, there are more than 150 companies selling arms to Myanmar’s military, 135 of which are based in Myanmar, Russia and Singapore. Yadana Maung, the group’s spokeswoman, told RFA that many companies have been able to evade Western sanctions, meaning financial and military support continues to flow to the junta. Thein Tun Oo, executive director of the Thayningha Strategic Studies Institute, which is made up of former military officers, said using human rights to justify sanctions against Myanmar is “weakening the defense of the country.” “All we have heard so far is the noise they’re making about human rights,” he said. “In reality, what we understand is that they are using that premise to allow those who are pulling the strings to obtain more power.” He said the junta will continue to purchase arms from its allies despite attempts to block them. Propping up a brutal regime In February, former U.S. Rep. Tom Andrews, who serves as U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said in a report to the U.N. Security Council that countries should stop selling arms to the junta, citing a brutal crackdown on civilians since the coup. The report called out permanent Security Council members China and Russia, as well as India, Belarus, Ukraine, Israel, Serbia, Pakistan and South Korea, for selling the weapons, which Andrews said are almost certainly being used by the military to kill innocent people. However, analysts say it is unlikely that the sale of arms to the junta can be cut off completely as Russia and China, which are its main suppliers, wield veto power at the Security Council. In the meantime, junta chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing has visited Russia three times in the 19 months since the coup. During his last trip, earlier this month, he signed an agreement with Russian government officials to build a nuclear reactor factory in Myanmar. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Mortars fired from Myanmar side of border with Bangladesh kill Rohingya youth

At least one Rohingya youth was killed and several more young refugees were injured when two mortar shells reportedly fired from the Myanmar side fell and exploded in the no-man’s land along Bangladesh’s southeastern border Friday night, Bangladeshi police said. The youths were all refugees from a camp in the no-man’s land on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, Additional Superintendent of Police (Sadar Circle) of Bandarban, Md. Reza Sarwar, told BenarNews. The incident occurred amid reports of intense fighting near the Myanmar side of the border lately between Burmese junta forces and rebels in neighboring Rakhine state. The police official said at least five injured Rohingya were admitted to local hospitals. The youth who died in the incident was identified as Mohammad Iqbal, 18, son of Matlab Hossain. The shells reportedly landed in an area that borders Bangladesh’s Bandarban district, Reza Sarwar added. A Rohingya resident from the area, Dil Mohammad, said the shells were fired around 8:30 p.m. Friday. Another resident Md. Kamal concurred. “Two mortar shells landed in no-man’s land at the time. And we were hearing sounds of shelling from afternoon to night. People are scared in the neighborhood,” he told BenarNews. Bangladeshi officials say more than 4,000 Rohingya refugees have been living in no-man’s land for the last five years since a brutal crackdown by the Myanmar military forced the ethnic minority to flee their homes in August 2017. Some 740,000 Rohingya crossed the frontier and took refuge in camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district.   Lt. Col. Faizur Rahman, director (operations) of the Border Guard Bangladesh, told reporters that the agency immediately lodged a protest about Friday’s incident with the Border Guard Police of Myanmar. This wasn’t the first time that the fighting between Arakan Army rebels and the Myanmar military in Myanmar had come close to the Bangladesh border. On Aug. 28, during heavy fighting in Myanmar’s border state of Rakhine, two mortar shells landed in the same area but did not go off. A similar incident also occurred on Aug. 20 as well. This month alone, Dhaka has protested and summoned Myanmar’s ambassador to Bangladesh three times to protest these incidents. Earlier this week, Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said the country’s border police had reinforced security along the frontier with Myanmar. Amid the tense situation inside Myanmar, a few new Rohingya families have arrived in Cox’s Bazar, where Bangladesh already hosts about one million refugees from Myanmar. One of the new arrivals told BenarNews on Sept. 10 that he saw “several hundred” people clustered along the Naf River that separates Cox’s Bazar from Rakhine state, and who were trying to cross the border several days earlier. It was not immediately clear what happened to those other people apparently displaced by intense clashes in recent weeks between junta forces and the Arakan Army. BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news service.

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Borrowers forced to sell their homes as debt crisis in Cambodia worsens: report

An “alarmingly high” number of Cambodians have had to sell their homes to repay credit card and small loan debt, a study of Cambodia’s microfinance sector has revealed. The study, commissioned by the German government’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), surveyed households, held group discussions with villagers, and interviewed local authorities in 24 Cambodian villages.  It found that many of the indebted households had taken out small loans with an 18 percent interest rate, and about half had trouble repaying. Of the households that reported difficulties, 13 percent reported selling their homes over the past five years. When extrapolated for the entire country’s population of borrowers, “[this] would mean 33,480 debt-driven land sales per year, or roughly one sale every 16 minutes,” the study said. Some borrowers tried to lower their debt burden by eating less, and others took their children out of school so they could work to help repay the family debt, the report found. Borrowers in some rare instances suffered from food insecurity or were forced to work in inhumane conditions, or put their children to work to such an extent that it constituted  human rights abuses, it said. The study shows the challenges faced by Cambodians who borrow money, Eang Vuthy, executive director at the Phnom Penh-based Equitable Cambodia NGO, told RFA’s Khmer Service. “When [the microfinance institution] holds land and house titles, they charge an interest rate that doesn’t reflect the ability of each family to make income each month,” he said. “They consider the interest rate based on the value of the land.”  He urged the government and microfinance firms to forgive the debts of poor people who have no hope of ever making enough money to pay it off.  “This is a financial crisis. We have to have a national policy to allow time for people to pay off their debts rather than forcing them to pay or confiscate their land,” he said. RFA was unable to reach National Bank of Cambodia Director Chea Serey for comment. In Channy, president of the local Acleda bank, told RFA that 18 percent interest rates are relatively low compared to the rates credit companies in other countries charge. Acleda provides loans based on its evaluation of a prospective borrower’s eligibility, but sometimes, people lie in their loan application forms while others misuse the loans, he said. “There shouldn’t be any customers losing their land because they are taking loans, unless they misuse the loans,” In Channy said. Kaing Tongngy of the Cambodia Microfinance Association, said Cambodians sell their homes to raise capital for their businesses or because they want to relocate, not because they cannot pay their loans. However, Kaing Tongngy said that some loan officers are unscrupulous and that his institution will provide more training to loan officers. Debtors should discuss their circumstances with their lenders if they cannot pay their loans, he said. “Microfinance companies consider people as clients. People have the right to ask and bargain,” said Kaing Tongngy. “We urge people to talk about finding solutions to reduce tension”  Forced to sell Sources in the country told RFA that they had no way to repay their debts other than to sell their homes. Vann Voeun of Kampong Speu province said that he and his brother sold their homes to repay debt they owed in 2019. He said that their creditors would not allow them to make late payments, and threatened to confiscate their properties, so he sold their land and cows to pay the interest on time. “The most delay they could give us was only one week, otherwise they threatened to foreclose on the properties. We were afraid so we borrowed more money from neighbors even though they charged more interest,” he said. He said that he didn’t misuse the loan but his business failed. He said that the loan led to his brother’s divorce. “A micro financer threatened me. I  hurried to sell my land. The land should have sold for U.S. $20,000 but I sold for only $10,000,” Vann Voeun said. In Banteay Meanchey province, Prin Chhoy sold two lots of her land to pay off her debt. She no longer has her house, but instead lives in a small shelter on her farm. She said her child dropped out of school because the debt became too much. During RFA Khmer Service’s call-in show on Friday, Sok Meng from Takeo province said that he took out a loan for $20,000 to start a business, but he is unable to generate enough money to repay the bank.  “I bought supplies for my business but I’m not making any profit,” he said. “My business doesn’t work. I can’t make any income due to inflation. It is hard to live, I am making $20 dollars [each day], it is hard to pay the loan. I spend more than I can make in income. I will sell my business and sell my land. Things are so hard.”  Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Eugene Whong. 

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Six dead, thousands infected in Myanmar by new COVID-19 outbreak

At least six people have died and 2,457 have been infected in Myanmar since the start of the month amid an outbreak of a new omicron variant of COVID-19, the junta’s Ministry of Health announced Thursday. The ministry announced the numbers for the two weeks ending Sept. 14, noting that 384 infections and one death had been recorded on Wednesday alone. Charity groups told RFA Burmese that the ministry’s announcement was based only on the number of patients who were treated at junta-run hospitals, suggesting that the actual number of infections is much higher. A doctor who runs a private clinic in Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon said that most patients who come seeking treatment exhibit signs of COVID-19, even if they aren’t being included in the junta’s official count of infections. “There are fewer people wearing masks these days. Many shops have reopened and more people are going to bars and cafes,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Additionally, many people who need cooking oil stand in long lines at charity centers without any regard to rules of social distancing, so COVID is making a comeback.” The doctor told RFA that because the genetics of the disease have changed with the new variant, symptoms such as loss of smell and low oxygen levels have become less obvious. “But the rate of infection is increasing,” he said. “When we perform tests on patients, we find it in nearly all of them.” He predicted that the number of infections will only increase in the country unless measures are put into place to prevent transmission. Yangon residents line up to buy palm oil for cooking, Aug. 26, 2022. Credit: RFA Other priorities A resident of Yangon, who also declined to be named, said that the junta’s mismanagement of the economy has left people more concerned with ensuring that they have enough food to eat than the risks associated with the disease. “People are not very careful about COVID at present. They are working hard to obtain their daily sustenance, so COVID is enjoying a resurgence,” he said. “Most people don’t even know they have the virus. They only find out they have it after getting tested. Low income laborers couldn’t care less about COVID, as their priority is finding enough food to eat.” The Yangon resident called the situation “critical” and suggested that, with the rising cost of medicine due to inflation, the outbreak’s toll is only likely to get worse. Myanmar was hit with a third wave of the coronavirus shortly after the military seized power in a February coup last year prompting the country’s workers – including its health professionals – to strike as part of a nationwide Civil Disobedience Movement. The shortage of doctors and nurses, as well as a dearth of medicine and equipment, allowed the disease to spread largely unchecked. This time around, said Khin Maung Tint, the chairman of a Mandalay-based social assistance association, organizations such as his were prepared, having stockpiled medicine and equipment in case of a new outbreak. “Our main challenge is the rise in petrol prices,” he said. “People are also enduring financial difficulties and so we are currently providing care for free in most cases.” However, he warned that without help from authorities to curb the outbreak, “we could run out of supplies, and that would be difficult for us.” Preventing transmission On Thursday, the junta’s Information Ministry announced to the media that mass infections had been recorded in several schools and workplaces. It said authorities are “working with relevant departments to enforce COVID prevention.” Some 80% of infections since the start of the year occurred in patients who had not received vaccinations, the ministry said. Attempts by RFA to contact junta Ministry of Health spokesperson Than Naing Soe for details on efforts to control the spread of the disease went unanswered Thursday. A CDM doctor, who asked to be identified by the name Olivia, urged the public to follow simple practices such as wearing masks, washing hands and adhering to social distancing guidelines, which she said would go a long way in helping to combat the outbreak in Myanmar. “Prices are rising fast — from basic foods to essential medicines,” she said. “If your health is affected, medical expenses will add a huge burden on your shoulders. So take care now more than ever — even twice as much as the last outbreak.” To date, 617,739 people have been infected with COVID-19 and 19,444 have died since the pandemic first spread throughout Myanmar in 2020, according to the Ministry of Health. More than 36 million of the country’s 54.4 million people have been vaccinated against the disease. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Junta arrests 15 demanding UN extend term of Myanmar rep

Authorities in Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon arrested 15 people on Tuesday evening after breaking up an anti-junta protest calling on the United Nations to extend the tenure of the shadow National Unity Government’s (NUG) envoy to the world body. A young man who took part in the protest march on Panbingyi Road in West Yangon’s Kyimyindine township told RFA Burmese that several members of the security forces in civilian clothes pulled up in five vehicles at around 4:30 p.m. and confronted his group. “I can confirm [the identities of] those who were arrested and I’d say they are in a very dangerous situation,” said the man, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity due to security concerns. “There were a lot of them in civilian clothes. They arrived in two taxis and three private cars, coming in from all four sides. I saw the guy who was arrested in front of me severely beaten, grabbed by the throat, and dragged away.” The man said he was late to join in the march and “heard the sound of gunshots and screams” when he arrived, just as the protest was being broken up. Those who were arrested were members of the Yay Bawai (Octopus) People’s Benevolent Youth Organization, Basic Education Young Students Association (Ah-ka-la-Central), Myanmar Labor Alliance, Burma Youth Network, Pyinnya Nandaw Private School Students’ Union, and the Owl Community, he said. The protesters had been marching with banners calling on the U.N. to extend the tenure of NUG representative Kyaw Moe Tun, instead of replacing him with an envoy from Myanmar’s military regime, which came to power in a Feb. 1, 2021 coup that unseated the country’s democratically elected government. In December, the U.N. Credentials Committee announced that it would indefinitely postpone the decision, allowing Kyaw Moe Tun to retain his seat, in what observers called a serious blow to Myanmar’s junta on the world stage.  On Wednesday, the leader of Yay Bawai, which organized the protest, confirmed to RFA that two men, two women, and a person identifying as gender non-binary were among those arrested from his group. He added that the detainees are being held at the Shwe Pyitha and Yay Kyi Aing interrogation centers. The Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (CTUM) announced on Wednesday that five of its members – two women and three men – were among those arrested. A person who fled arrest told RFA that he saw a few men and some cars – including a Toyota Alphard – parked nearby before the protest started. Soon after the protest began, people in civilian clothes came out of the cars and violently arrested the protesters, he said, adding that shots were fired and at least one protester was injured. Reports by local media said that some journalists covering the protest were among those arrested on Tuesday, although RFA was unable to independently confirm the claim. Tuesday evening’s protest took place on the same street where on Dec. 5 authorities arrested several anti-junta demonstrators after a military vehicle drove into the crowd, hitting several people. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Newly arrived Rohingya refugees say hundreds want to leave Myanmar

Hundreds of people were waiting to cross into Bangladesh from Myanmar, a small group of newly arrived Rohingya told BenarNews, amid fierce fighting close to the border that has sparked diplomatic protests over reports of artillery and mortar shells landing in Bangladeshi territory.  One of the new arrivals said he saw “several hundred” people clustered along a river that separates Cox’s Bazar district in southeastern Bangladesh from Myanmar’s Rakhine state, and who were trying to cross the frontier several days ago. It was not immediately clear what happened to those other people apparently displaced by intense clashes in recent weeks between Burmese junta forces and Arakan Army (AA) rebels.  In Bangladesh, where the government has tightened security along the border amid the violence in Rakhine, authorities have not confirmed reports of any new refugee arrivals or influx into Cox’s Bazar.  Meanwhile, a Rohingya leader said that at least five Rohingya fleeing Myanmar had arrived at a Cox’s Bazar camp in recent days.  “Two Rohingya families of five people, including two infants, have taken shelter at the Lambasia camp in Ukhia,” Muhammed Jubair, secretary general of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights (ARSPH), told BenarNews.  The adults were identified as Abul Wafa, his wife, Minara, and another woman, Dildar Begum.  Wafa said they fled from Buthidaung in Myanmar on Sept. 6 as junta and AA forces clashed.  “The junta started torturing the Rohingya in Buthidaung,” he told BenarNews. “That’s why we came to Bangladesh to save our lives, but we are also hiding here.”  “When we were entering Bangladesh, we saw several hundred Rohingya people, mostly women and children waiting to leave near the Naf River,” Wafa said.  Two days earlier, on Sept. 4, the Foreign Ministry issued a news release expressing “deep concern” over mortars that reportedly landed on the Bangladeshi side of the frontier the day before. The release noted that Myanmar Ambassador U Aung Kyaw Moe was summoned regarding the incident, just as he had been summoned on Aug. 21 and 28.  “During the meeting, the ambassador was also told that such activities are of grave threat to the safety and security of the peace-loving people, violation of the border agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar and contrary to the good neighborly relationship,” the ministry said.  On Tuesday, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said he expected firing inside Myanmar along the border to end soon.  “We heard that a group called Arakan Army was fighting with the government forces inside Myanmar. When the government forces attack the Arakan Army, some shells land inside our territory,” he told reporters.  “Our Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), as well as Foreign Ministry, have strongly protested the incidents by calling the ambassador of Myanmar.”  Refugees’ accounts  Jubair said Wafa and the others sheltered with a relative after arriving in Bangladesh before moving into another camp.  Wafa said his group gave a boatman a piece of gold jewelry to carry them across the Naf River because they had no money to pay him.  Dildar Begum, 22, said her husband, Syed Ullah, was killed by the “Mogh army” a month ago. She was referring to the Arakan Army although “Mogh” is a term that Rohingya also often use to refer to the Burmese military.  “I fled with Wafa’s family to Bangladesh as there was no other option for me,” she told BenarNews.  In Rakhine state, an official with the AA rebels denied that the group was targeting members of the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority.  “The allegations on AA targeting Muslims are not just wrong but baseless accusations, because the fighting [in the state between Arakan Army and junta troops] has been more than a month,” Khine Thu Kha, a spokesman for the rebel group, told RFA Burmese. “We want to question back, did you guys see or hear any report of a Muslim killed or injured by the fighting? Did you hear any report or see anyone saying there was a shell or a bullet from AA falling in a Muslim village so far? Otherwise, it is just an accusation with other intentions to defame our organization.”  Despite the claims made by the Rohingya, Md. Shamsud Douza, Bangladesh’s commissioner for Refugee Relief and Repatriation, said there was no official information about any new arrivals from Rakhine state infiltrating Bangladesh territory.  “Clashes are occurring between two groups in Myanmar. It is very normal that it will create some tension on our border as a neighboring country,” he told BenarNews. “Our decision is very clear – we cannot allow even a single Rohingya to enter Bangladesh.”  Robiul Islam, additional superintendent of police, said his unit was “not sure about a fresh entry of Rohingya but we are looking into the matter.”  Sheikh Khalid Mohammad Iftekhar, a senior official of Border Guard Bangladesh, said the border police force had tightened security at the frontier to prevent any attempts by refugees to enter the country. From January to June, 478 Rohingya were denied entry and four were arrested, according to the BGB.  Repatriation hopes  A Rohingya who lives in Maungdaw, Myanmar, and asked to not be named for security concerns, said that the increasing conflict in the state had dampened Rohingya hopes for repatriation.  “It will be difficult for them to return in this situation. The current situation will not allow them to come here,” the resident told RFA.  “The situation here is not very good. There is no security. People here are fleeing to other areas because fighting is going on. In this situation, they will not be able to come back.”  Fighting between the military and the AA resumed in July. Oo Maung Ohn, a resident of Maungdaw Township, blamed the resurgence in Rakhine State after a nearly two-year ceasefire on the junta.  “Do you know why all this fighting resumed? They (the junta) closed the roads and started the fighting and they arrested many innocent people,” he told RFA. “They arrested village administrators, questioned them and hit them.”  Rakhine State Attorney General Hla…

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Myanmar’s people, shadow govt mourn UK monarch amid junta silence

Citizens of Myanmar reacted to the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, who died last week at age 96 after 70 years on the British throne, with sadness on Monday, remembering the monarch as a champion of democracy and a source of comfort in the face of national adversity. Elizabeth’s reign began in 1952, just four years after the end of more than a century of British rule in Myanmar, at a time of strong anti-British sentiment in the fledgling Southeast Asian nation. Myanmar did not join the Commonwealth after independence, like most other former colonies. However, many Burmese remember her as overseeing improved bilateral relations that culminated in substantial support from London for democratic reforms in Myanmar under the National League for Democracy (NLD) government of Aung San Suu Kyi, prior to its ousting by the military last year. “The queen was part of the ruling class of the country that has continuously supported the cause of Myanmar’s democracy,” Thet Oo, a resident of Salingyi township in northern Myanmar’s Sagaing region, told RFA Burmese. “I wish for her to rise into heaven.” Khin Maung Nyo, a Yangon-based writer who previously studied in the U.K., told RFA that while the queen’s role was largely ceremonial, she was seen as a steadying and unifying presence. “People saw her as their guardian angel watching from above as a loving mother would or as a good ruler should. That’s why her subjects from all the 15 Commonwealth realms loved and respected her,” he said. “During the time I was in England, the country was having economic problems but the people struggled hard in unity. Though there are a lot of problems at the Palace, I’m sure Prince Charles will be able to steer the country, as King Charles III, out of danger.” The Burmese people can empathize with the grief currently felt by Britons, a Mandalay resident who requested anonymity for security reasons, told RFA. “I can see the entire British population is in grief because she had done many good deeds during her 70 years of rule. It’s sad to see them like this. Stories about their grief made me remember the time when our people were similarly in grief when General Aung San was assassinated [in 1947],” the Mandalay resident said, referring to Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, who was a revolutionary hero that many consider to be the founder of modern Myanmar. “Nobody would be grieving for those leaders who didn’t do any good for the country. Just look at [previous military rulers] Gen. Ne Win and Senior Gen. Saw Maung. Nobody was moved or sorry for them. People only grieve for good rulers,” he said.   Junta silence Though the junta has remained silent on the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, the shadow National Unity Government (NUG) made a point of publicly showing condolences both at home and abroad, a NUG spokesman told RFA. The NUG’s Acting President Duwa Lashi La sent his official message shortly after learning of the queen’s death on behalf of the shadow government, formed by former lawmakers who were ousted by the junta in the Feb. 1, 2021 coup. “The prime minister has also sent a similar message on behalf of the NUG government, and our representative in Britain has, in person, signed the Book of Condolences,” said NUG spokesman Kyaw Zaw. The British government and the royal family have continuously supported the democracy movement in Myanmar and the queen had been, according to Kyaw Zaw, a “good friend” of Aung San Suu Kyi, the most well-known figure in the movement who served as State Counselor prior to the coup. The junta’s official newspaper reported on the queen’s death in its Sept. 9 issue. RFA attempted to reach junta Deputy Minister of Information Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment on why the junta, which claims to be Myanmar’s legitimate government, had not sent a message of condolence to London, but received no reply. Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing sent such a message to the government of Japan after the assassination of its former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in July. Post-coup relations Thein Tun Oo, executive director of the Thayningha Strategic Studies Institute, made up of former military officers, told RFA that the junta likely chose to stay silent because Britain and the international community have been putting pressure on Myanmar since the coup. “Diplomatic relations with countries like Britain … have not been very good since February 1 [2021],” said Thein Tun Oo.  “As you know, former British ambassador Vicky Bowman was also recently arrested [by the junta] and punished for meddling in Myanmar politics. So, politically, especially diplomatically, relations are not very good.” Last week, former U.K. Ambassador to Myanmar Vicky Bowman and her Burmese husband, Htein Lin, were sentenced to one year in prison each on immigration violation charges, which activists said were concocted by the junta. Authorities arrested Bowman, who served as ambassador from 2002-2006, and her husband, an artist and former political prisoner, on Aug. 25 for allegedly violating immigration laws and jailed them in Yangon’s notorious Insein Prison. The arrests came after the U.K. announced a new round of sanctions against the junta. Than Soe Naing, a political observer, said the snub was a result of political and economic sanctions on the junta. “The British royal family stands with the democratic forces of the world who are fighting against the military dictatorship today and so, they have no reason to send a message of condolences to the death of a state leader of England which is putting all kinds of political and economic sanctions on the junta,” Tan Soe Naing said. “That’s why their papers only announce the news of the death. They have not acknowledged and expressed sorrow in any way,” he said. The British government has consistently supported Myanmar’s democracy since the 1988 military coup. When Aung San Suu Kyi, whose late husband was a British national, was released from house…

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Cambodian psychiatrist calls award reason ‘to work even harder’

Cambodian psychiatrist Chhim Sotheara, one of four winners of this year’s prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award, was surprised to learn he had won the award and didn’t know he had been nominated to receive it, he told RFA in an interview this week. “At first, I didn’t believe it, because I hadn’t applied for it,” Sotheara said. “I thought at first it was an online scam,” he said. “This is a valuable award. Only a few people in Asia have received it, and it is an honor for our country, as Cambodia will be recognized through the award,” Sotheara said. The award also acknowledges the efforts he and his NGO have made over the last two decades to help the people of Cambodia, he said. “All our employees are so happy, and this will encourage us now to work even harder to deserve having received the award,” he added. Established in 1958 and named after the Philippines’ seventh president who died in a plane crash a year earlier, the Ramon Magsaysay Award is considered Asia’s most prestigious prize. It honors people across the region who have done groundbreaking work in their fields. Also receiving the award this year are Filipina pediatrician Bernadette J. Madrid, French anti-pollution activist Gary Bencheghib, and Japanese ophthalmologist Tadashi Hattori. All four are expected to attend an awards ceremony in Manila Nov. 30. Sotheara, 54, was among the first generation of psychiatrists to graduate in Cambodia after the 1975-79 period of Khmer Rouge rule that killed an estimated 1.7 million people and left many thousands of survivors deeply traumatized, many of them living in remote rural areas of the country. Now executive director of Cambodia’s Transcultural Psychosocial Organization (TPO), Sotheara developed the concept of baksbat, or “broken courage” — a post-traumatic state of fear, passivity and avoidance considered more relevant and particular to the Cambodian experience. Sotheara Chhim meets with a patient in a rural area of Cambodia, in an undated photo. Credit: Sotheara Chhim Underserved rural areas Switching to clinical psychiatry after working for a time as a surgeon, Sotheara later quit his job at a state hospital after he was approached for help by a patient coming from a remote community and became aware of the needs going unmet in Cambodia’s countryside. Sotheara’s NGO now delivers treatment directly to people’s homes and communities, he said. “When I help one patient, I also help his family and community, because when one person experiences mental issues, we need to treat the whole family.” Many Cambodians experience mental health problems, and Sotheara’s TPO has not been able to respond to all their requests for help, he said. “But since we started, we’ve improved a lot.” There were only 10 psychiatrists at Sotheara’s own graduation, he said. “Now we have around 100 psychiatrists, but we can’t answer all the demands made of us because many of those experts like working in the city, and not many work out in the communities.” Around 80% of Cambodia’s population live in rural areas, and service must be provided to those people, he added. Also speaking to RFA, TPO employee Taing Sopheap said she has worked with Chhim Sotheara for the past 15 years and has seen him sacrifice himself both physically and financially to carry out his NGO’s work. “If a case is urgent and important, he will work on it regardless of the cost in time to his team or to other cases,” she said. Translated by Samean Yun for RFA Khmer. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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Weeks after tropical storm Ma-On batters northern Laos, residents struggle to recover

Two weeks after tropical storm Ma-On battered Southeast Asia, northern Laos is digging itself out of the devastation, as authorities contend with damaged infrastructure, inundated farmland, and hundreds of displaced people at risk of disease from lack of access to clean water. The ninth named storm of the 2022 Pacific monsoon season, Ma-On formed over the Pacific Ocean on Aug. 18 and became a severe tropical storm by Aug. 23, before slamming into Mainland Southeast Asia on Aug. 25. The storm brought heavy winds and rain to the region, and triggered flash floods in Vietnam and Laos. While the storm had mostly dissipated by Aug. 26, its impact on impoverished Laos – with its limited capacity to rebuild in the aftermath of natural disasters – was profound. Among the worst hit areas in northern Laos was Oudomxay province, where on Thursday, Provincial Governor Bounkhong Lachiemphone described the destruction as “massive” in an interview with the official Lao National Radio. “The most devastated area is La district, followed by Nomor district and Xay district, where a lot of basic infrastructure such as roads, bridges, the power grid, hospitals, health clinics, schools, farms, and irrigation systems are damaged or destroyed,” he said. “Our residents’ livelihoods are severely affected, especially in La district where more than 100 homes were swept away, and more than 500 others were damaged. Livestock are dead. Farmland – especially rice and produce fields – are covered with mud and debris.” Residents of Oudomxay province watch recovery efforts in the aftermath of Ma-On tropical storm. Credit: Radio and Television of Oudomxay province Bounkhong said damage from the storm in the three hardest hit districts had surpassed 150 billion Lao kip (U.S. $10 million) and that resources have been stretched thin as authorities continue with recovery efforts. “Right now, we have employed 300 soldiers to help build shelters and repair damaged homes for the displaced,” he said. “We’ve had to rely on donations from domestic and international organizations.” Khamseng Ali, the head of the Public Works and Transportation Department of Oudomxay province, estimated that repairs to 49 roads and 44 bridges damaged in flooding caused by Ma-On would cost at least 60 billion Lao kip (U.S. $3.8 million). “This is the worst flood in 37 years in our province,” he said. An official with the Public Works and Transportation Department in Xay district, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told RFA Lao that National Route 13 North, which cuts across northern Oudomxay from the border with Luang Namtha province in the west to the border with Luang Prabang province in the east, had been severed in several places. Highway 2E, which runs from the capital of Oudomxay to the border with Phongsaly province to the northeast, is also damaged in multiple stretches as the result of landslides and flooding, he said. “Many sections of the highways have become impassable,” he said, adding that recovery crews are “repairing them as we speak.” Humanitarian efforts hampered The devastation has severely hampered humanitarian efforts, according to health workers in the province, who told RFA that people displaced by the storm lack access to clean water and are vulnerable to disease. “More than 1,000 people flocked to our hospital from Aug. 31 to Sept. 8,” said a health worker in Oudomxay’s Namor district. “These sick people are from the 13 worst-affected villages … in Namor district. Most of them are children who are suffering from high fevers and diarrhea. Our health workers have also traveled to the affected villages and advised residents to only drink boiled water, eat thoroughly cooked food, sleep under mosquito nets, and wear masks.” The health worker told RFA that many victims of the storm are also suffering from the flu, which has spread quickly within displaced communities. “Our hospital spent 200 million kip (U.S. $12,700) to buy medicine, but much of it was damaged by flooding,” he said. “Now, the hospital has run out of money and medicine, so we’ve had to request more funding from the provincial government.” A resident of Namor’s Tangdoo village told RFA that there is no longer running water in the area and said at least 20 residents are sick from flu and diarrhea. “Those whose toilets weren’t washed away by flooding must use water from wells or creeks to flush them,” said the resident, who declined to be named. “When our village was flooded, there was a landslide too. The irrigation system is broken. Now we must fetch water for cooking and sewage.” Motorists traverse a road inundated by flooding in Oudomxay province. Credit: Radio and Television of Oudomxay province Displaced at risk A health worker in Oudomxay’s La district told RFA that the flu is rampant. “For treatment of flu, our district hospital and health centers in affected villages have run out of medicine,” the worker said. “The sick who come to the hospital have to buy their own medicine at the private pharmacy. We haven’t received any additional funding for extra medicine despite the increasing demand.” An official with the Oudomxay Provincial Health Department said authorities are scrambling to assist those in need, but acknowledged that recovery efforts are slow-going. “Several areas were buried by landslides during the flooding and all of the water networks – including the irrigation systems – in Namor and La districts are damaged and in need of substantial repairs,” the official said. Ma-On’s impact on northern Laos came days after authorities released water from nine upstream dams in the provinces of Phongsaly, Luang Prabang, Xayaburi, and Vientiane. Residents told RFA at the time that the release flooded their homes, places of work, and farms, forcing many to escape to higher ground. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Joshua Lipes. Residents of Oudomxay province avoid a large sinkhole caused by heavy rains. Credit: Radio and Television of Oudomxay province

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