When an ethical boycott backfires

As published with Democratic Voice of Burma. View original here

Propped up by a set of brass coils encircling her neck, Mapaung’s head turns stiffly to survey the deserted village of Kayan Tharyar. Beyond the mountains in the background lies her homeland – Burma.

It’s another quiet day in the village. No more than five years ago, hordes of tourists would flock in by the busload to gawk at the women who live here, take photos and, with any luck, buy some souvenirs.

But now, amid continuing campaigns by human rights organisations and ethical tourism agencies to ‘Stop the Human Zoo’ in northwestern Thailand, the steady stream of visitors has dried up. And so has their money.

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Refugee students learn life lessons – in pictures

Close to the Burmese-Thai border, young Karenni refugees study desperately to gain acceptance into universities worldwide. But with talks of repatriation echoing through the camps, it’s unsure how long they are to stay there.

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Refugee students learn life’s lessons

As published with Democratic Voice of Burma. View original here

It’s 9am on a Tuesday, and the usual noisiness that accompanies school mornings rings out across the village of Do Ki Ta.

Ranging in age from late teens to early twenties, the students of the Karenni National Community College (KNCC) make their way from the Burmese refugee camp of Ban Nai Soi, located on the Thai side of the eastern Burmese border, to their classrooms.

Some have walked for an hour and a half to get to school. Others have come on motorbikes, a 45 to 50-minute journey across muddy, uneven roads which are dangerously flooded during the monsoon season.

Lucky students like 20-year-old Nyereh are housed in one of the college’s few bamboo hostels dotted about the village. But now that Burma’s ethnic rebels are in the final stages of signing a ceasefire agreement with government, talks of repatriation are echoing through the refugee camps along the border, and it is unsure how long they can remain there.

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Rebel soldier to gay rights warrior

As published with Democratic Voice of Burma. View original here.

With tears in his eyes, Aung Myo Min tells the story of his first love. As a young man, filled with a fierce passion for equality and democracy in his home country of Burma, he had taken up arms against the military government with other like-minded students. Deep in the Burmese jungle, Aung Myo Min fell in love with another young man, a fellow student-cum-soldier who shared his ideals and fought alongside him. But while their comrades preached equal human rights for all, the two men knew they were not accepted by the rest of the group. Unable to cope with the stigma, the couple separated.

Aung Myo Min left the army to pursue non-violent activism, while his lover was sent to the front lines.He was later captured by government forces and tortured to death.

“They did not believe in this kind of love,” Aung Myo Min tells the camera.

“But our love, it came from the heart.”

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Reward and ruin on the Salween River

As published with Democratic Voice of Burma. View original here. 

Slowly, a few drops of water pool together in the caves of a glacier some 5,450 metres above sea level in the Qinghai Mountains of Tibet. This is the source of the mighty Salween River, at 2,815 kilometres one of Asia’s longest free-flowing waterways and lifeline to around seven million people.

From its tranquil birth on the Tibetan plateau, the Salween, or Nu as it is known in Chinese, careers southwards, through Yunnan and the Shan hills, briefly holding court as the official border between Burma and Thailand, then flowing out into the Andaman Sea at the port of Moulmein.

The Salween is only navigable 90 kilometres from its mouth, and then only in the rainy season. For the most part it runs across hundreds of miles of remote rainforest and canyons, untroubled by civilisation.

But while the Salween has flowed undisturbed for centuries through Burma, the rest of the country is undergoing an industrial revolution.

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Coca-Cola hits back at military link claims

As published with Democratic Voice of Burma. View original here

Coca-Cola has defended its business practices in Burma after an international industry watchdog pointed out connections between the corporation’s local partner and the US Treasury-blacklisted company Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL).

Prior to recommencing business in Burma, the drinks giant insisted it had conducted “comprehensive” due diligence checks in the years 2009 to 2012 “based on the information at the time”. But it wasn’t until Global Witness alerted Coca-Cola to these links that the conglomerate realised that its only local director in Burma, Shwe Cynn, was also a shareholder in the jade mining company Xie Family.

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