Friday, August 24, 2012

Tourists to Myanmar's ancient city on the rise

Almost 18,000 tourists have visited Bago, an ancient city about 50 miles from Yangon, from January to July, latest statistics show.

This number is more than half of last year's 27,601 visitors and is expected to increase further by end-2012.

Bago is the former capital of the Hanthawaddy dynasty and an important seaport during that period. Most tourists go there on day tours.

U Kyaw Aye, head of Shwemawdaw Pagoda’s board of trustees, said most of the tourists travel in groups rather than as individuals and majority of them are Thais.

He also said Shwemawdaw Pagoda has received more donations from Thais than from any other tourists. Tourists have donated around US$2,000 and over 270,000 baht (around $8,600) to the pagoda over the past seven months.

Shwemawdaw Pagoda, Mahar Pagoda, Kyaik Pun Pagoda and the Kanbawzathardi Palace are popular tourist destinations in the Bago zone, where authorities have set up booths to collect a $10 entrance fee.-Asia News Network (August 23, 2012)

Deeper Asian splits possible after South China Sea spat: Indonesia FM

Deeper divisions could open up between Southeast Asian states and Beijing unless they do a better job of handling disputes such as a recent quarrel over the South China Sea, Indonesia's foreign minister said on Thursday.

Marty Natalegawa said Jakarta was trying to restore harmony after unprecedented arguments over the sea prevented a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian nations (ASEAN) last month from issuing a joint communique, the first time this had happened in the 10-member bloc's 45-year history.

"That's not good ... we will need to do better next time," he told Reuters in an interview during a visit to Canada.

The divisions stem from what some ASEAN members see as China's rapidly expanding influence in the region. Beijing has close relations with some ASEAN member states like Cambodia and Myanmar but there are tensions with others such as the Philippines and Vietnam. The Asian giant is not a member of the group.

China has territorial claims over a huge area of the South China Sea, including waters where the Philippines and Vietnam also claim sovereignty. At stake are potentially massive offshore oil reserves.

The area has become Southeast Asia's biggest potential military flashpoint. China and the Philippines have faced-off on a number of occasions in the disputed waters.

Natalegawa said he did not believe there was any one country in Southeast Asia or East Asia that "deliberately, with conscious aggressive intent" wanted to jeopardize peaceful international relations in the region.

"What we may have instead is a risk of miscalculation, of misperception, and action creating counter-reaction and a chain effect," he said.

Indonesia, by far the most powerful member of ASEAN, is working on a binding code of conduct for the South China Sea that would offer a guarantee that if one nation involved in a disagreement exercised restraint, the other would too.

"We have to save us from ourselves in assuming the worst of the other's intent and ending up having a self-fulfilling type of vicious circle. Now this is what Indonesia is trying to do," said Natalegawa.

"We are trying to intervene to say 'Look, stay calm and steady, let's not rush along a pathway that we don't want to go in' and avoiding this Cold War type of mentality, as if there are new fault lines."

China has yet to commit to the idea of a code of conduct, the details of which are still unclear. Natelegawa discussed the matter at a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi this month and "did not receive any negative response to my presentation of what is to come".

Natalegawa said he did not agree with the claim that China was becoming more assertive within ASEAN.

"I said (to Chinese officials) 'Look, what's going on? What's with you? Where are you coming from on this issue?' And when I hear from their world view, from their perspective, they have their own rationale and perception, as if they were caught by surprise as to what had happened at the (summit)," he said.

The arguments over the South China Sea were an unwelcome distraction for a grouping that plans to create a European Union-style economic community by 2015.

Natalegawa said he was encouraged by recent democratic reforms introduced by the military rulers of former rogue member Myanmar, which is due to chair ASEAN in 2014.

"A country that is chairing ASEAN on the eve of the ASEAN (economic) community 2015 must be more sensitive on human rights issues, on governance issues, than any one of us," he said.

"So it gives us a great deal of ... encouragement in making sure the process of reform in Myanmar is irreversible."-Interaksyon (August 24, 2012 3:36AM)

Vietnam arrests another top banker as scandal grows

Vietnam arrested another top banker Thursday, state media said, widening a police probe into the communist country's banking sector which has rattled markets and triggered a run on deposits.

The arrest of Ly Xuan Hai for "deliberate wrongdoing causing serious consequences" came just hours after the Asia Commercial Bank announced he had resigned from the position of director general, Thanh Nien online reported.

Police have raided the French-educated banker's house in southern Ho Chi Minh City and his office, the report said.

Hai's arrest deepened the problems facing ACB, which has seen its share price dive nearly 20 percent and had jittery depositors withdraw more than $200 million of deposits since its flamboyant founder was arrested Monday.

Multi-millionaire Nguyen Duc Kien, 48, a shareholder in some of Vietnam's largest financial institutions and one of the founders of ACB, was detained for "illegal business activities" after police raided his Hanoi home.

The benchmark VN Index plunged 4.2 percent Thursday led by bank shares, raising losses at the bourse to nearly 10 percent since the scandal broke and prompting the Securities Commission to call for calm.

More than $240 million was withdrawn from ACB on Tuesday, the Tuoi Tre newspaper said, while the price of gold has surged as savers scramble for a safe haven. News of Hai's arrest emerged after ACB branches had closed Thursday.

The central bank had previously said Kien's arrest is not related to the ACB -- where he holds a less than five percent stake -- but concerned accusations of wrongdoing at three smaller financial companies where he is chairman.

As well as his stake in ACB -- which counts global banking giant Standard Chartered as one of its "strategic partners" -- Kien is said to hold shares in Sacombank, Eximbank, VietBank and others.

He was reportedly involved in drafting the country's new bank reforms.

But Hai's arrest brings a new dimension to a scandal that has already sent shockwaves through the communist country, said Vietnam expert Carl Thayer, emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

"It's a new ballgame," he said. "Clearly the private sector is coming under scrutiny."

Other experts warned that the growing scandal could spook already jittery foreign investors, particularly in Vietnam's already-fragile banking sector.

Hai has been replaced by Do Minh Toan, previously ACB Deputy Chief Executive Officer, according to VietnamNet.

At ACB branches in Hanoi on Thursday, customers queued to withdraw their savings forcing the central bank to send truckloads of cash to ensure liquidity, an AFP reporter saw.

"Thanks to advance preparation we still ensured good repayment," ACB's Toan told Tuoi Tre.

The central bank pumped more than $600 million into the banking system Wednesday -- double the sum of Tuesday's intervention -- according to official data.

Its governor Nguyen Van Binh has issued rare public assurances that depositors' funds are safe, pledging to "ensure liquidity for ACB and other banks if there is a mass withdrawal".

The communist country's Securities Commission urged the public not to panic and said retail investors should be "calm and prudent" in their securities transactions to avoid losses.-Interaksyon (August 24, 2012 1:34AM)

Philippine police arrest 350 in China scam

Philippine police said they arrested more than 350 people on Thursday involved in a major telephone scam that swindled people out of millions of dollars in Taiwan and mainland China.

At least 357 suspects, believed to be mostly from Taiwan and China, were arrested after simultaneous raids on 20 houses across Manila, said Senior Superintendent Ranier Idio, deputy chief of an anti-organised crime task force.

"This is a big syndicate. They go for the millions (of dollars)," he told reporters.

The gang would pose as police and government prosecutors, telling their victims by telephone that they had legal problems and they would have to transfer money to a certain account to settle the matter, said Idio.

He said the group would carefully check their intended victims' background to make sure they could pay up before they struck.

They chose to operate in the Philippines to avoid Chinese police and because of the country's proximity to China and Taiwan, according to Idio.

Police said many of their victims were elderly retirees.

Numerous computers and telephone systems were recovered in the raid, Idio added.

The arrested suspects included both men and women but it was difficult to get further details out of them as they declined to answer most questions, said Senior Inspector Robert Reyes, one of the investigators.

"Mostly, they are not cooperative. We don't know if they can't speak English or if they just don't want to talk," he told AFP.

Envoys from mainland China and Taiwan were at the police centre, determining where the suspects had originated from, police said.

The syndicate, operating in cells, would bring their gang members to the Philippines in small groups and put them up in rented houses in upscale neighbourhoods to avoid raising suspicion, police said.

Two Filipinos who facilitated the entry of the foreigners were also arrested.

Reyes said police suspected the group was linked to 78 Taiwanese suspects who were arrested in the southern Philippines in April, also for using telephone systems to obtain money from mainland China and Taiwan.

The Taiwanese were later deported to face charges at home, authorities said.

The latest suspects could be charged with a law penalising the use of telecom systems to commit fraud, Reyes said. If convicted, they could face six to 20 years in jail.-Channel News Asia (August 23, 2012)

WORLD NEWS: Japan, South Korea play hot potato with protest note

Japan on Thursday refused to take back a letter sent by its own prime minister after Seoul said it would not accept delivery of the note, as a row over islands threatened to descend into diplomatic farce.

It was the latest move in an increasingly bitter tit-for-tat dispute that has engulfed two of Asia's largest economies for nearly two weeks.

South Korea said earlier in the day it would return the protest letter from Yoshihiko Noda without answering it, for fear any move to acknowledge the missive would bolster Tokyo's claim to islands that both sides say they own.

That sparked an angry response from Tokyo, which accused its neighbour of contravening diplomatic norms.

"Under usual protocol, it is inconceivable that letters exchanged between leaders are sent back," Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, the government's top spokesman, told a news conference.

"I hope (South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak) will accept the letter, which was sent to deliver our prime minister's thoughts."

The letter to Lee has not even made it to Seoul, having been kept at the South's embassy in Tokyo, foreign ministry spokesman Cho Tai-Young said, announcing the intention to hand the note back.

But in what was beginning to look like a real live game of hot potato, the Japanese foreign ministry turned away a South Korean diplomat, believed to have been carrying Noda's letter, at the gate of the ministry building, NHK footage showed.

"I'm sorry to say this, but returning a diplomatic letter is below even being childish," Senior Vice Foreign Minister Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi said at a press conference.

The letter was subsequently put in the post, registered delivery, a spokesman at the foreign ministry in Seoul said.

Despite their strong economic ties, the two countries have a frequently uneasy relationship, in which historical animosities constantly play in the background.

That relationship has sharply worsened since Lee paid a surprise August 10 visit to the Seoul-controlled islands, known as Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japan.

He said his trip, the first by a South Korean president, was intended to press Japan to settle grievances left over from its colonial rule in Korea from 1910-45.

Lee further angered Japan by saying later that Emperor Akihito must sincerely apologise for past excesses should he wish to visit South Korea.

Noda's letter said Lee's visit to the islands and his call on the emperor were "regrettable", Kyodo News said.

The Japanese PM upped the ante in Tokyo on Thursday, telling lawmakers Lee's remark "considerably deviates from common sense" and the president "should apologise for and retract it".

He said Japan was keeping a cool head, but Seoul needed to calm down.

Tokyo, caught on the hop by the island visit, recalled its ambassador to Seoul, cancelled a planned visit by its finance minister scheduled for this month and said it would review a foreign exchange swap agreement.

South Korea then rejected Japan's proposal that the two countries ask the International Court of Justice to settle the dispute.

Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba poured oil on troubled waters on Wednesday, describing Seoul's control over the islands as an "illegal occupation".

"We lodge a strong protest... and demand Japan's foreign minister immediately withdraw his remarks," said spokesman Cho Tai-Young..

About 400 South Korean activists waving national flags rallied outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul, urging Tokyo to withdraw its claim to the islands.

They also demanded Tokyo compensate elderly Korean women forced into sexual slavery for Japanese troops in World War II and called on Akihito to make a sincere apology.

The embassy was guarded by about 100 riot police with plastic shields but there was no violence.

Seoul accused Tokyo of neglecting diplomatic etiquette by disclosing the contents of Noda's letter in advance.

But one analyst said South Korea should have replied to Noda's letter because Japan sees Seoul's reaction as rude.

"There was no need to return the letter as it could worsen the emotional atmosphere between the two parties," Lee Myon-Woo, a researcher at South Korea's Sejong Institute think-tank, told AFP.-Channel News Asia (August 23, 2012)

Study says RE projects viable in Phl, Thailand

The Philippines is one of only two Southeast Asian nations where renewable energy (RE) projects are currently commercially viable.

More RE ventures are expected to bring down high electricity costs while allowing the country to hit its RE targets, Ipsos Business Consulting (IBC) Division said in a study.

“The Philippines can be considered the most developed RE market in Southeast Asia, with more than 30 percent of its power generated from renewable resources - more than any other country in the region,” IBC said.

To date, 33 percent or 5,439 megawatts (MW) of the country’s total installed capacity of 16,359 MW are sourced from green energy projects. Hydropower and geothermal projects account for 63 percent and 36 percent, respectively, of the installed capacity for RE.

IBC said that only the Philippines, through geothermal power production, and Thailand, through solar power, are commercially viable investment locations for RE projects.

“The push toward use of RE reflects the fact that electricity prices in the Philippines are the highest in Asia, which has driven away investment,” IBC said.

“RE is expected to bring costs down, which is essential for the Philippines to attain energy security and economic sustainability,” it added.

Electricity rates in the Philippines is the second most expensive in Asia, next only to Japan due to lack of generation capacity, dependence on fuel imports and the absence of government subsidies.

Under the National Renewable Energy Program, the country expects to hit 15,000 MW of RE installed capacity by 2030.

Approved service contracts and pending applications will result in potentially 7,067 MW and 3,771 MW of new capacity from green power projects, respectively.

“The Philippines has the potential to achieve its RE targets, given rising demand for energy, pressure to increase the competiveness of the country and cut the cost of electricity, and its vast stock of RE resources,” said head of Consulting Colin Kinghorn.

However, the Philippines might lose its edge given delays in policy implementation.-The Philippine Star (August 24, 2012)

China Forcing Repatriation of Ethnic Refugees From Myanmar

The authorities in southwest China are forcibly evicting thousands of encamped ethnic Kachin refugees from neighboring Myanmar who fled a renewed civil war, pushing them back into the conflict zone in northern Myanmar’s Kachin State, according to foreign human rights researchers, political observers and two people in Kachin State.

The forced repatriation appears to be happening in large waves this week. The refugees had fled to China after a 17-year cease-fire agreement between the Kachin Independence Army and the Myanmar government broke down in June 2011. The civil war with the Kachin is one of many occurring in Myanmar, and the renewal of the Kachin conflict has cast doubts on the sincerity or ability of President Thein Sein to carry out deep political reforms.

A researcher for Human Rights Watch said the repatriations appeared to have begun en masse on Tuesday. He estimated that 1,000 refugees had returned to Kachin State and a total of 4,000 are projected to return by the end of the week.

In June, Human Rights Watch reported that 7,000 to 10,000 Kachin refugees were in China, subjected to squalid conditions and harsh treatment by officials. It also said there had been had been some instances of forced repatriation by Chinese officials, though apparently not as systematic or widespread as now.

“All the refugees in China now are being pushed back,” said one resident of Laiza, the capital of the rebel-held part of Kachin State. “Many of them are back already.”

On Wednesday, he added, Chinese border guards expelled a group of refugees at an area called Nong Tau and destroyed refugee huts even before the refugees had left the site.

Ryan Roco, a human rights researcher who has documented the refugee crisis, said he had learned that at least 4,200 Kachin were being forced out of six camps in China’s Yunnan Province. He said the process, begun in mid-August, appeared to have intensified since Tuesday. A further 700 were living with family or friends in Yunnan after being forced from the camps, he said. Those who have returned to Kachin State were living in on both sides of the conflict zone. Part of Kachin State is controlled by the Kachin Independence Army, though the rebel group has lost significant territory since the civil war restarted.

“The actions of the Chinese against vulnerable Kachin demonstrate a wanton disregard for human dignity and international humanitarian law,” Mr. Roco said.

Officials in Yunnan and Beijing had been tolerating the presence of the Kachin refugees for more than one year, though Yunnan officials had been threatening to evict the refugees. It is not clear why the refugees are being expelled now. An employee at the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the ministry had no immediate comment after it was sent a list of questions on Thursday. Calls to the Yunnan propaganda office went unanswered, as did calls to the propaganda office of Dehong Autonomous Prefecture, the location of the camps.

One foreign researcher who also confirmed the repatriation efforts said that about six weeks ago, a number of Chinese foundations had made donations to Kachin religious groups to assist internally displaced people. The Kachin are Christians, and Chinese religious organizations and some other aid groups have been allowed by local Chinese officials to help refugees and internally displaced Kachin. But some foreign observers have criticized China for not allowing the United Nations access to the border camps.

China has not taken an official position on the Kachin conflict. Kachin State is rich in jade, timber, mineral wealth and water resources, all coveted by the Chinese. Several large Chinese dam projects in the region, including the controversial Myitsone Dam, had inspired local protests. China is also a major patron of the Myanmar government, though many Myanmar citizens are wary or hostile toward growing Chinese influence.

On Monday, the Irrawaddy, a newspaper based in Thailand that reports on Myanmar, said Chinese officials had pressured the Kachin Independence Organization, the civilian counterpart to the Kachin Independence Army, to accept 4,000 refugees back in Kachin State.-The New York Times (August 23, 2012)

Nguyen Duc Kien's arrest in Vietnam prompts ACB fears

A branch of ACB bank in Vietnam's capital Hanoi shows staff transferring blocks of dong to customers on 23 August 2012
Depositors in Vietnam have withdrawn hundreds of millions of dollars from one of the country's largest banks after the arrest of one of its founders.

Nguyen Duc Kien, one of Vietnam's richest businessmen, was arrested in Hanoi on Monday on suspicion of "economic violations".

Shares in Asia Commercial Bank slid as a result, causing depositors to panic.

The Central Bank has pumped millions into the bank to reassure depositors.

Large crowds of customers have gathered outside branches of ACB in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.

The government has said that Mr Kien, who owns just under a 5% stake in ACB, is not involved in the day-to-day running of the bank.

Mr Kien, whose family is the fifth richest in Vietnam, co-founded ACB in the 1990s. He is seen as a politically well-connected tycoon.

CEO concerns
The allegations against him concern other investment companies that he owns, but there is also concern about the whereabouts of ACB's chief executive officer Ly Xuan Hai.

Some reports say it is widely believed that Ly Xuan Hai is also under arrest or may have resigned.

Mr Ly's deputy, Do Minh Toan, has been quoted as telling state media that depositors withdrew about 5 trillion dong ($240m) from ACB on Wednesday.

The bank run has also put pressure on the dong and has led to an increase in the price of gold - traditionally seen as a safe-haven investment at times of economic instability.

Since Wednesday the Central Bank has injected 17 trillion dong into Vietnam's commercial banking sector in an effort to mollify depositors and the market.

The BBC's Charles Scanlon says Mr Kien's sudden arrest has prompted speculation about a power struggle in communist-run Vietnam, and a suspected plot to curb the power of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, to whom Mr Kien has close ties.

ACB faced a run on its deposits in 2003 after rumours, which were later proved false, spread about the arrest of one of its executives at the time.

Mr Kien is also a shareholder in other commercial banks, including Kien Long Commercial Joint Stock Bank and the Vietnam Export-Import Commercial Joint Stock Bank

He has also invested heavily in Vietnam's professional football league.-British Broadcasting Corporation (August 23, 2012)

U.S. think tank urges PH to protect maritime claims by improving coastal defense

A U.S.-based think tank has suggested the Philippines should look into the possibility of improving its coastal defense systems.

This is in line with the country's efforts to protect its maritime claims, the Philadephia-based Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) said.

It said this should be done in the meantime that the country is waiting for deliveries of equipment that would improve the capabilities of its Air Force and Navy.

The think-tank raised the suggestion after noting Manila might not have enough funds to acquire potent weapons like the submarine which can deliver a devastating attack on intruders with little or no loss to itself.

"An alternative strategy would be for it to take advantage of its geographic location to the Spratly Islands and meet (an intruder's challenge) from an asymmetric angle," the think tank said in its website.

"Rather than directly confront strengths in air and naval warfare, the Philippines could pose a challenge with a strategy built around new technologies for coastal defense that would have lower long-term procurement and maintenance costs," it said.

These missiles include America’s RGM-84L Harpoon, RGM-109B Tomahawk, India’s BrahMos, and Russia’s P-800 Yakhont.

Denmark, Egypt, South Korea, and a small number of other countries have used RGM-84 anti-ship cruise missiles as part of their coastal defenses.

Vietnam recently ordered two batteries of P-800 missiles to protect its South China Sea claims.

FPRI stated four batteries of such anti-ship missiles mounted on wheeled or tracked vehicles and dispersed along Palawan’s long road network could satisfy the Philippines’ capability requirement to deliver the massed firepower necessary to penetrate any intruding fleet's shipboard defenses.

It added the weapon systems' mobility would reduce the possibility that they could suppress them with either air or ballistic missile strikes.

FPRI said the Russian P-800 missile is part of the K-300P Bastion-P coastal defense system.

A single battery’s standard configuration consists of four launchers, each with two P-800 missiles, two command-and-control trucks, a combat alert vehicle, and four transporter loaders.

Designed for rapid deployment, the battery can ready all eight missiles for launch in five minutes.

The American RGM-84L missile’s smaller size would allow each launcher to mount four missiles, as Denmark’s launchers were configured for its coastal defense batteries that operated from 1988–2003.

If organized like the K-300P system, each RGM-84L-equipped battery could launch 16 missiles in a single salvo, it said.

Although modern ships have improved air and surface search radars, their sensors have limited ability to peer ashore.

And while reconnaissance satellites may be able to find fixed installations and help target land-attack missiles against them, mobile targets are far tougher to locate, as Coalition forces discovered during their hunt for Iraqi Scud-B mobile ballistic missiles in 1991.

With ample jungle cover and good emissions discipline, Philippine coastal defense batteries could remain hidden from intruding forces, it said.

To counter these batteries, the latter would have to send aircraft, helicopters, or unmanned aerial systems deep into Philippine airspace over Palawan to pinpoint them, placing them at risk from land-based Philippine air defenses.

FPRI added coastal defense batteries would require over-the-horizon detection and tracking to provide targeting data for their missiles, and command-and-control coordination to enable a synchronized salvo launch from multiple batteries.

It said: "Ideally, the Philippines could acquire E-2C airborne early warning aircraft to meet both requirements. Given the over 350 kilometer detection range of its AN/APS-145 airborne surveillance radar, an E-2C patrolling over Palawan and well-defended by land-based air defenses on the island could scout for intruding ships anywhere in the Spratly Islands.

"But such an aircraft may prove too costly to acquire and maintain. And it would likely be based on Luzon where it would have better access to service infrastructure, but far from the Spratly Islands, lengthening its response time."

The think-tank added a more flexible alternative may be the MH-60R naval helicopter.

"Since the Philippine air force already has experience operating helicopters from the same S-70 family, it would not have to create a wholly new spares inventory or training program for aircrews, as an E-2C would require. In addition, the MH-60R’s AN/APS-147 airborne surveillance radar has a detection range of probably over 300 kms —- extending deep into the contested waters around the Spratly Islands -— and a substantially lower power output than other maritime radars, making it more difficult to detect," FPRI said.

Better still, four helicopters could be acquired at the cost of one E-2C.

With a fleet of six MH-60R helicopters, two could be forward deployed at Puerto Princesa, while the other four could remain at Sangley Point for repair or local duties.

Though the MH-60R platform may not have the full range of capabilities as the E-2C, they would not be tied to airfields and could be reinforced with the balance of the helicopter force should tensions escalate.

In the future, when unmanned aerial systems become more reliable and less costly, they may also play a role in maintaining persistent surveillance over the South China Sea, FPRI said.-Interaksyon (August 23, 2012 09:04PM)

PHL no longer a 'jeepney economy' — BPI exec

The Philippine economy no longer has to increase its inflation rate to catch up with its booming economic growth so far this year, an official of the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) said at the 4th annual Corporate Treasury and CFO Summit Thursday.

In the output gap theory, a country working beyond its potential in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) will have to increase inflation to catch up with the economic growth.

Investopedia defines output gap theory as a measurable comparison between actual GDP and potential GDP. “When the economy is running an output gap, either positive or negative, it is thought to be running at an inefficient rate as the economy is either overworking or underworking its resources,” it said.

Thus, when economy works beyond its potential, prices must be jacked up to catch up with labor and production costs. At least in theory.

In the Philippines, it’s a different scenario. For Teodoro Limcaoco, executive vice president of the Bank of the Philippine Islands, this basic economic theory no longer applies in the Philippines, so far as the country’s economic performance has shown.

“The [Philippine] scenario is that when you look back at what our trend in inflation, our economic growth today … is above trend and yet we are below inflation trend.

Output gap theory does not hold now,” said Limcaoco.

Economic growth in the first quarter has grown to 6.4 percent in the first quarter compared to 4.9 percent last year. Despite the growth, inflation rate has so far ranged from a low 2.7 percent in February to 3.2 percent in June this year, compared to 2011 levels of 4 percent to 5 percent.

'Jeepney economy' no longer

The reason for the controlled inflation despite economic growth is the country’s financial surplus, driven mainly by its overseas Filipinos’ remittances and the receipts from the business process outsourcing industry, said Limcaoco.

“We don’t necessarily raise interest rates right away to contain inflations. There is enough fuel,” Limcaoco said.

Combined earnings of the BPO industry and OF remittances totaled $21 billion last year, official data released by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) early this year showed.

The central bank said the resilient incomes of these two dollar-earning sectors of the economy kept the payments position in surplus. OF remittances were at $10.6 billion while BPO earnings were $10.4 billion, the BSP said.

Due to this financial fuel, the country has emerged from an economy that relies on foreign debt 10 years ago – an economy compared to a “jeepney” by the BPI executive because it is “slow to start but easy to overheat” – to an economy that is now resilient with a “net surplus.”

“For the past nine years, we’ve been running the capital accounts surplus that has taken us out of this jeepney economy; before that we relied on current account deficits. Since 2002 or 2003, we’ve been running on surpluses and that has fundamentally changed the economy,” Limcaoco said.

“Now we are a net lender of our surplus,” he added. -GMA News (August 23, 2012 3:37PM)

350 foreigners nabbed as authorities crack Internet fraud ring in the Phl

More than 350 foreigners, mostly Taiwanese and Chinese, were arrested Thursday by agents of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission in what authorities called the “biggest and most resolute operation” against cybercrime.

Among those arrested were the alleged financiers of the Internet fraud ring, Filipino-Chinese Maria Luisa Tan and Johnson Tan Co.

CIDG Director Samuel Pagdilao Jr. said the suspects were arrested during raids on more than 20 homes in subdivisions in Quezon City, Manila, Marikina, Cainta and Antipolo Cities Thursday morning.

CIDG deputy director for operations Senior Superintendent Keith Singian said the suspects would call potential victims in China over the Internet and, posing as Chinese police, tell them their bank accounts were being used to launder money for terrorist activities.

They would then advice their victims to transfer their funds to a “safe account” the fraudsters would provide.

Most of the victims, said Singian, would comply out of fear.

The modus operandi used to be common in China until authorities cracked down in 2010, driving crime rings to move their operations overseas and rely on the Internet to dupe their victims.

On May 27, authorities also arrested 37 Chinese for a similar scam.

All the suspects arrested Thursday were brought to the Police National Training Institute (PNTI) in Camp Vicente Lim, Laguna where cases for violation of the Access Device Act are being readied against them.-Interaksyon (August 23, 2012 4:35PM)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Thai PM 30th most powerful woman in world-Forbes

Yingluck Shinawatra, the prime minister of Thailand, has been among female leaders and business chiefs selected for the Forbes' 100 most powerful women.

Forbes said Yingluck, 45, was included as she "oversees a country of 67 million and the second-largest economy in Southeast Asia. One year into her term the Shinawatras' ruling party has already been accused of plotting to overthrow the monarchy."

In 2011 when she was first included in the list, Yingluck was ranked the 59th most powerful woman.

In the 9th annual ranking, topping the the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women list is German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the woman who now holds the future of the eurozone economic system. She is followed by US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at No. 2, and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff at No 3.

Members of the 2012 ranking represent women in technology (a new category this year), politics, business, media, entertainment, non-profits, as well as billionaires - all ranked by money, media presence and impact. The 25 CEOs alone oversee companies with $984 billion in revenues. The women represent 28 countries, have an average age of 55, and a combined 90 million Twitter followers.

"This year's Power Women exert influence in very different ways, and to very different ends, and all with very different impacts on the global community," said Moira Forbes, president and publisher, ForbesWoman. "Whether leading multibillion-dollar companies, governing countries, shaping the cultural fabric of our lives, or spearheading humanitarian initiatives, collectively these women are changing the planet in profoundly powerful and dynamic ways."

Sixteen women join the list for the first time, including: Brazilian CEO Maria das Gracas Silva Foster of Petrobras (No. 20); Entertainer Jennifer Lopez (No. 38); Billionaire philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs (No. 49); and WikiMedia Foundation executive director Sue Gardner (No. 70). Twenty-one women dropped off list this year, including Sallie Krawcheck, Carol Bartz and Michele Bachmann.

There are 15 women in Tech, including: Sheryl Sandberg (No. 10) of Facebook, Virginia Rometty (No. 15) of IBM, Ursula Burns (No. 17) of Xerox, Meg Whitman (No. 18) of HP and Marissa Mayer (No. 21) of Yahoo.

Entertainer Lady Gaga (No. 14) is the youngest on the list, at age 26; Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (No. 26) is the oldest at 86. In her most recent sit-down interview with the media, US Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano (No. 9), is interviewed by Moira Forbes about her career, culture, what keeps her up at night, and much more.-Asia News Network (August 23, 2012)

Indonesians 'less generous' with tipping among Asians

A recent survey by an international credit card firm showed that consumers in Indonesia were "less generous" than their Asian counterparts in Asia when it came to tipping at restaurants and bars. Some Indonesians, however, begged to differ.

The MasterCard survey, conducted from April 24 to June 10, was designed to examine attitudes toward tipping, involving 6,904 respondents between the ages of 18 and 64 throughout 14 countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

The survey, made available to The Jakarta Post last week, revealed that 89 per cent of Thai respondents had claimed that they would definitely tip in restaurants or bars.

The survey also reported that another Southeast Asian country, the Philippines, finished in second place with 75 per cent of its consumers saying they would tip for good service in restaurants, followed by India (61 per cent) and Australia (55 per cent).

Indonesia, meanwhile, shared sixth place with Malaysia, with 40 per cent of consumers from both countries claiming they would give extra money whenever visiting a restaurant or a bar.

The study also revealed that Japan, South Korea and Taiwan were the most miserly with only 3 per cent of Japanese respondents saying they would be "happy" to tip in restaurants, with 13 per cent of South Korean respondent and 17 per cent of Taiwanese respondents saying the same thing.

Georgette Tan, head of MasterCard Worldwide's communications in Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa, said the research indicated that a diverse set of markets made up the Asia-Pacific region.

"It is a truly remarkable mix of cultures and understanding them is a big challenge for global businesses. As a company, we're always looking to better understand our customers and their habits. This gives us a useful look at how different these markets are," Tan said in a statement.

Commenting on the results, Standard Chartered senior economist Fauzi Ichsan told the Post that the degree of service tipping between countries would depend on both their respective income per capita as well as the culture of the society in question.

"Some rich countries, like Japan, are not culturally accustomed to tipping, though service charges may be already included in the price of the service itself," he said in a text message yesterday evening.

Ichsan added that it would be inaccurate to conclude that Indonesians were "less generous" when it came to tipping, saying that most of them would love to give extra money, which was popularly known as uang rokok (cigarette money), even for little services they received in restaurants or bars.

"It is more practical for most Indonesians as opposed to using credit card," he said.

Separately, Rhenald Kasali, a senior lecturer at the School of Economics in the University of Indonesia, supported Ichsan's opinion, saying that Indonesians were accustomed to tipping in cash instead of including tips on their credit card bills.

"For Indonesians, tipping in a restaurant or a bar is something that is very personal. It depends on whether they enjoy the service from a particular person; whether it be a bartender, a waiter or a cashier. With that, they prefer to tip them in cash," he said.

Ririn Radiawati, a 27-year-old travel writer, who has been using MasterCard since 2010, said separately that she had never included tips on her credit card receipt whenever she went to a restaurant with a friend, adding that she preferred to give tips in cash.

"However, I must admit that I am quite selective when it comes to tipping. If a restaurant that I go to has already charged its customers with a service fee, I would not bother giving a tip," Radiawati, who resides in Jakarta, told the Post.-Asia News Network (August 23, 2012)

Will Thailand Lose in SE Asia’s New Economic Community?

Thailand’s finance minister has a message for all the naysayers who believe his country will be a major loser if plans for a new regional economic community come together in 2015: Don’t bet on it.

Economists have long debated whether Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy will struggle once the new regional bloc – known as the Asean Economic Community (AEC)—gathers momentum in the next few years, potentially bringing more-integrated financial markets, freer flows of labor, streamlined customs procedures and better transportation links to a region of 600 million people. The fear among some investors in Thailand is that those and other steps to tie Southeast Asian economies more closely together will make smaller or less-developed countries such as Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar more attractive, allowing them to suck away some of the investment that once went to Thailand.

Those worries surfaced again late last month, when the Japanese Chamber of Commerce (JCC) and Japan External Trade Organization (Jetro) in Bangkok released a survey which found that half of Japanese corporations based in Thailand are considering destinations elsewhere in Southeast Asia for future production bases once the AEC comes into play, as is now expected in 2015. In its coverage of the survey, Thai newspaper The Nation noted that Thailand “will need to ramp up its performance in several areas” to make the country more attractive to foreign firms or “else face a decline in investment and even relocations.”

But Thai Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong dismissed those worries in an interview, saying that if Japanese companies had wanted to leave, they would have done so already after last year’s devastating floods that temporarily shut down much of Thailand’s industrial sector. He said 99.5% of the companies involved remain in Thailand, and that Japanese investment continues to rise.

In the past seven months, he said, the number of investment applications filed from Japanese companies increased 51% from the previous year.

“Thailand remains the center of Japanese investment in Southeast Asia,” he said. As for the AEC, “I don’t think Thailand will lose out,” he said. “We will retain almost all of our investors in Thailand.”

Of the 374 Japanese firms in Thailand that were surveyed for the joint JCC-Jetro report, 49% said they anticipated no change to their production plans in Thailand in response to the AEC. But 29% said they would consider Myanmar for future production bases, and 21% said they would look to Indonesia.

Mr. Kittiratt said it was only normal that some investors would have their eyes on Myanmar, which has a market of 60 million people and is undergoing a major reform process to modernize its economy after decades of harsh military rule. “It’s the same in Indonesia—it’s a new market of 250 million people that’s opening up,” he said.

Whatever happens, it’s clear that the plans of Japanese firms will be crucial to Thailand’s future. Japanese companies have long been among the dominant investors in Thailand, using the country as a major production base for vehicles and other products sold locally and around the world. In 2011, the investments of Japanese corporations comprised 57% of all foreign investment approved by the Thai Bureau of Investment (BOI); in the first six months of 2012, the Japanese share grew to 62%, according to BOI figures released in July.

Despite last year’s floods, which the World Bank says caused an estimated THB1.4 trillion (USD45.7 billion) in economic damages and losses, most Japanese firms still have a positive outlook on growth in Thailand for the second half of 2012, with 83% reporting that they expect pre-tax profits and 70% saying that business sentiment is improving.

In April, Toshiba Corp. announced plans to relocate their chip manufacturing facilities from north of Bangkok, which was inundated with water last year, to Prachinburi province, about 100 miles northeast of the capital, in an area with no major waterways. Canon Inc. is also currently constructing new manufacturing facilities in the province.

But many Japanese investors have said privately that they were frustrated over what they perceived to be an inadequate Thai response to the massive floods last year, and many analysts have predicted that at least some of them will leave once Southeast Asian countries become more integrated and it becomes easier to set up shop elsewhere.

The JCC-Jetro survey found other issues of concern for the country, notably labor constraints. An overall shortage of workers and rising labor costs due to recent and upcoming minimum wage hikes were the most significant problems mentioned by Japanese enterprises in the survey—65% of respondents noted a negative impact on their businesses and profits due to these factors.

“Thailand has very good infrastructure, supporting industries, and government incentives,” said Jetro president Setsuo Iuchi. “But shortage of labor and the rise in costs are big issues.”

Some Japanese businesses have already moved the labor-intensive segments of their supply chains and manufacturing processes to Cambodia, according to Mr. Iuchi. “At the same time, other Japanese companies are looking to other destinations in the region for their future expansion,” he added.

To be sure, not everyone is convinced the AEC will fully come together as planned, and Thai authorities may well respond with more incentives of their own to sweeten the pot for foreign firms. Either way, Mr. Kittiratt says he’s convinced the AEC will be good for Thailand in the long run.

“The reason we’re integrating is because there will be a benefit for all countries,” he said. “We will all win once we become the AEC, by being a wider, bigger market with greater purchasing power.”-The Wall Street Journal (August 22, 2012)

Five Nations Claim Disputed Island Chains

China’s recent establishment of Sansha city, an administrative municipality based on three islands in the South China Sea, has led to increasing tensions in recent weeks over which of six different governments has a legitimate claim to all or parts of the Spratly and Paracel island chains.

The islands and their surrounding waters, uninhabited except for a few troops meant to establish claims to the territory, are rich in natural resources and home to some of the world's busiest shipping lanes, making them attractive real estate.

But among the governments of China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei, which claims are the most valid? What are those claims based on?

China claims all of the islands, saying that for more than 2,000 years, the Chinese people have considered the islands as part of their nation. Beijing also points to a 1947 political map drawn up by the then-Nationalist Kuomintang government that marks all of the islands as its territory.

Vietnam also claims the islands on a historic basis, saying it has occupied the islands at least since the 17th century, before any nation had declared sovereignty over them, giving it a rightful claim to the territory. It points to an 1838 Vietnamese map showing the islands as part of its territory.

But the three other nations - plus Taiwan - each claim parts of the territory based on what is known as UNCLOS, or the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which says nations can claim an Exclusive Economic Zone extending 200 nautical miles into the waters surrounding their coastlines. They may also make further claims based on the continental shelf extending from their shores.

Law of the Sea

Dr. Suzette Suarez, director of the Center for International Ocean Law, notes that determining title to a territory is anchored on two factors. “There must be an intentional display of power and effective control, and the exercise of state functions must be peaceful and continuous,” says Suarez.  She says that under UNCLOS, China’s claim doesn’t have any standing, because many features within the line haven’t been continuously occupied and not all of the line is adjacent to a land feature.


After a series of recent clashes between naval vessels and fishermen over fishing rights in the disputed territories, there has been some worry about the possibility of a violent confrontation and further escalation involving China and other claimant states.

One expert at the Council on Foreign Relations was quick to respond to fears that the dispute may spiral out of control. Southeast Asia expert Joshua Kurlantzick notes, “I think it’s likely to escalate, but that violent conflict is unlikely. China is quite pragmatic.”

Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department took the unusual step of weighing in on the matter, issuing a statement encouraging the claimants to work out a long-delayed code of conduct on the region in negotiations between China and the regional bloc Association of

South East Asian Nations

Some observers say Beijing does not want the 10-member bloc to unify on the matter because China would rather deal with its smaller rival claimants separately.  China says such allegations are Western attempts to stoke mistrust and enmity between China and its neighbors.

If history is any indicator, rival territorial claims in the South China Sea are likely to last far into the future. But at least for the moment, the area is at an uneasy peace.-Voice of America (August 22, 2012)

Old wealth reborn in new Indonesia

More than a decade after the downfall in 1998 of former Indonesian strongman Suharto, and despite myriad economic reforms aimed at narrowing a yawning wealth gap and creating a more level business playing field, politically connected conglomerates maintain an outsized influence over Southeast Asia's largest economy. 

A list of Indonesia's 150 richest businesspeople published this year by Globe Asia magazine showed that a handful of family businesses linked to the former dictator are still dominant, despite the country's growing integration in the global economy and rising foreign investor interest in its local markets and natural resources.
A sustained boom in global commodity prices has given many conglomerates a new lease on corporate life. Many of them have

successfully diversified or expanded into the mining and agriculture sectors that have benefited from booming exports to China, including in palm oil, coal, and metals. Many of the country's top business families have now seen their fortunes vacillate wildly from rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches. 

Topping Globe Asia's recent wealth list was Suharto-era tycoon Eka Tjipta Widjaja, whose Sinar Mas Group empire now sprawls across industries as diverse as pulp and paper, real estate, banking and finance, agribusiness, telecommunications and mining. His personal wealth was estimated at a whopping US$12.5 billion. 

The Salim Group, Indonesia's largest conglomerate now under the leadership of recently deceased founder Liem Sioe Liong's son, Anthony Salim, cigarette tycoon Robert Budi Hartono's Djarum Group, Susilo Wonowidjojo's Gudang Garam Group and Aburizal Bakrie of the Bakrie Group - all companies established under Suharto's patronage - were represented prominently on Globe Asia's wealth list. 

Wealth-X, a global intelligence and wealth due diligence firm, estimated in its latest Indonesia country report that 775 individuals in Indonesia are worth more than US$30 million, a statistic that underscores the country's still yawning wealth gap. Out of those 775 high net worth individuals, at least 41 had two or more family members on the Globe Asia list. 

The top tier 25 were all worth more than $1 billion, with at least five having two or more family members on the list, including Djarum Group's Hartono, Sinar Mas's Widjaja, and Murdaya Widyawimarta, founder of the Central Cipta Murdaya conglomerate. The list showed clearly that wealth remains highly concentrated among a small number of families involved in diversified business conglomerates. 

Many of them have made extraordinary financial comebacks, recovering lost wealth amid political and economic tumult. When the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis hit, many financial analysts predicted that Indonesia's conglomerates would collapse under the weight of their debts. As the rupiah plunged from 2,400 to 14,000 to the US dollar within a calendar year, by July 1998 several conglomerates that depended on bank loans for their working capital and business expansions were technically bankrupt. 

Marleen Dieleman, senior researcher at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School, said that while all Indonesian businesses were severely hit by the financial crisis, conglomerates, especially those owned by ethnic Chinese, faced twin crises. With their outsized wealth and political connections, they were seen by many Indonesians as symbols of the excess and corruption that epitomized Suharto's fallen regime, she said. 

When violence targeted Chinese minorities in Jakarta, mobs set fire to the Salim family's private residence. People demonstrated on the capital's streets carrying Liem's portrait and their Bank Central Asia (BCA), the biggest privately owned bank in Indonesia with two of Suharto's children on its supervisory board, suffered a run on deposits. The group ultimately lost most of their assets and Liem fled the country for the safety of majority Chinese neighboring Singapore. 

Usman Admadjaya, owner of Bank Danamon, saw his indebted financial institution eventually sold to Singapore's DBS and Germany's Deutsche Bank. He was later banned from leaving the country and faced prosecution for bribing officials to gain access to central bank financing. Timber baron and close Suharto crony Bob Hasan was forced to forfeit his monopoly concessions and eventually was jailed for fraud worth $75 million. 

Other conglomerates struggled for years to repay international and domestic debts. Barito Pacific, the Pangestu family-owned conglomerate engaged in petrochemicals, wood manufacturing, property and plantations, at the height of the crisis defaulted on 8.4 trillion rupiah (then around US$600 million) worth of loans. The Bakrie Group at one point owed 6 trillion rupiah to state-owned banks but has re-emerged as one of the country's most influential players in the country's lucrative energy and mining sectors. 

The country's three largest conglomerates - Salim, Astra International, and Sinar Mas - at one point were estimated to owe $5.5 billion, $5.1 billion, and $3.8 billion respectively to foreign creditors alone. Economist and recently elected head of the government's Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) Chatib Basri estimated that on average Indonesian conglomerates lost 25%-30% of their assets following the crisis. Yet many have survived to profit from the country's new commodity export driven boom. 

Exclusive era 

Indonesian conglomerates flourished under former strongman Suharto's brand of crony capitalism and industrialization-led economic growth. Ethnic Chinese businessmen leveraged on close connections to Suharto to secure monopoly privileges such as exclusive import licenses, protected local markets, government-imposed price controls, favorable tax rates, and easy credit from state-linked banks to finance their ambitious expansions. 

Many emerged from iconic rags-to-riches backgrounds. Liem, also known under his Indonesian name Sudono Salim, for example, arrived on boat in Medan, Indonesia in 1936 as an impoverished 21-year-old from Fujian, China. He started his business by trading clove that is rolled into Indonesian kretek cigarettes before expanding into textiles, banking, and food businesses. By 1997, Liem's Salim Group had amassed assets worth $20 billion (two and a half times more than what his son controls now) with over 600 companies and 200,000 employees. 

Liem's conglomerate-owning contemporaries included the late William Soeryadjaya, who owned 285 companies under Astra International covering automotive, heavy equipment, agriculture, infrastructure, information technology and financial services. Widjaja's Sinar Mas Group, meanwhile, owned 153 companies engaged in palm oil, paper, and banking. 

Mochtar Riady's Lippo Group was another major player in banking, property and infrastructure development who under his son Stephen Riady has bounced back from the crisis to expand into media. Not surprisingly, Suharto's direct and extended families represented perhaps the country's largest conglomerate, which at its height in 1998 owned 1,251 registered companies, 300 of which were owned by Suharto's five children. 

Two-hundred conglomerates dominated the local economy, making up 58% of the national gross domestic product at Suharto's zenith, according to Revrisond Baswir, an economy lecturer at the Gadjah Mada University and writer of several books on the subject. Indonesia's state-owned enterprise made up 24% of GDP, foreign investment 10%, and local small-medium enterprises a mere 8%, according to his research. 

The top five conglomerates, the Salim Group, Astra International, Sinar Mas, Gudang Garam, and Lippo Group, had annual sales totaling 112 trillion rupiah (US$47 billion) prior to the 1997 financial crisis. After Suharto's 1998 ouster due to street protests, many Indonesian conglomerates saw their businesses and personal fortunes collapse. -Asia Times (August 23, 2012)

Positive Signs in Indonesia’s Fight Against Graft

Indonesian President Yudhoyono accompanied by first lady Yudhoyono wave their hands at the end of a ceremony marking Indonesia's 67th Independence Day in front of the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, August 17, 2012.
Over at Asia Sentinel, a report analyzes how Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission appears to be going after high-ranking Democratic Party official and allies suspected of bribery, including several very close to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. 

The Commission, known as the KPK in Indonesia, has also taken on the National Police, which is often considered by many Indonesians as now more corrupt than the army. The police have been empowered over the past decade by successive governments as the army has had its powers (rightly) curtailed. The devolution of powers to provincial and subprovincial areas also has reduced the power of the army, except in areas where there is still serious conflict, like in Papua. 

As Asia Sentinel notes, the KPK is using the power of public revulsion of corruption to bolster its mandate, something that anti-corruption fighters in other developing countries have tried, yet often wound up finding that the popular mandate was not enough in the face of weak institutional support and entrenched political and business interests (See: South Africa, Thailand, and many others).

When he first came into office, Yudhoyono rhetorically empowered the KPK, but now it is getting extremely close to him and other senior people in his party. He is known to want to leave a legacy of a party that lasts in a political system that will eventually consolidate around only a few parties —the Democratic Party was previously mostly just a vehicle for him. 

His second term has been a serious letdown, by the standards established in the first, standards that were perhaps too high given his cautious style and links to the past. Still, by not interfering in this investigation, Yudhoyono could reclaim some of those reformist credentials.-Council on Foreign Relations (August 22, 2012)

Over 90 drinking water plants in Vientiane 'substandard'

More than 90 plants producing drinking water in Vientiane are distributing their products to the public despite lacking the necessary certification from the Ministry of Health's Food and Drug Department.

The factories in question have been told to improve the standard of their operations. However, some of them are illegally selling water before completing the necessary improvements and inviting the authorities to check and approve their production.

Health officials are very concerned about substandard drinking water in the capital, fearing that water distributed by substandard factories could affect the health of people both in the short and long term.

Savengvong Douangsavanth, director General of the Bureau of Food and Drug Inspection under the ministry of health, told Vientiane Times yesterday that authorities have warned the substandard factories to improve themselves before the Food and Drug Department can register their products.

In principle, the industry and commerce sector has the responsibility of approving a drinking water production facility. Once it is completed, the factory owner needs to ask for a letter of approval from the Food and Drug Department before distributing their product.

But many businesspeople have ignored this requirement as they don't want to lose profit while struggling to meet the standards required.

In 2009, health officials closed down 18 drinking water plants after their products were found to be substandard in laboratory tests before the 25th SEA Games in Vientiane.

Five months ago, the authorities closed down a drinking water plant in Chanthabouly district in Vientiane due to their failure to follow standards required by authorities, after having been warned not to repeat their mistakes.

The law enforcement sector needs to work harder to ensure wrongdoers face legal action for breaking the law and affecting the health of other people.

Many drinking water plants tried not to follow the standard requirements so they could reduce production costs and earn extra profit from the business.

Currently, there are 150 drinking water plants in Vientiane, of which over 90 are reported substandard and have yet to be registered by the Food and Drug Department.

Critics say it is important to publish the names of both standard and substandard plants in the media so that the public know exactly which plants they should buy water from and which plants they should not.

Media publicising would encourage the business sector to strictly follow the law and standard requirements for the good health of all people in Laos.

Meanwhile, health officials urged local residents to boil water to drink to avoid health problems which may result from buying by water from substandard plants.-Asia News Network (August 22, 2012)

Cambodian Muslims not involved in south Thailand violence: army chief

Most Cambodian Muslims living in the deep South of Thailand have no connection with insurgents in the predominantly Muslim region, and are simply job-seekers who have fled poverty in search of better lives, Thai Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha said yesterday.

Prayuth's statement contradicted Deputy Prime Minister Yuthasak Sasiprapha's earlier comment that many Muslims from Cambodia did not return home after travelling to the deep South, suggesting that they might be involved in the ongoing violence there.

Prayuth said only some 30-100 Muslims from Cambodia entered Thailand monthly. The figure varied according to the season, he said. Larger numbers entered during months when religious activities took place, such as Dahwah missionary work, he said. Some Muslims from Cambodia entered Thailand during other periods in search of work, he said.

"That's normal. I don't think they have any connection with violence in the deep South," Prayuth said. "It's about poverty, as they want to seek jobs in predominantly Muslim regions, including Malaysia, where they can obtain higher incomes than in their home country."

Nonetheless, authorities would keep eye on them since immigration records show that many of them do not return home.

Thai authorities have been especially sensitive to the movement of Muslims inside the Kingdom since violence erupted in the deep South in early 2004, killing thousands of people in the past eight years. No specific group has claimed responsibility. The government has pointed to separatists, but a solution to the violence remains elusive.

Meanwhile, Burmese national Chali Sinorat was shot dead yesterday in Narathiwat's Sungai Kolok district while using a motorbike to herd his cows into an enclosure.

In Narathiwat's Rangae district, an ambush killed a ranger and injured other two villagers while they were on the way to Ban Kujing Lupah. The dead ranger was Sgt-Major Bang-ern Phanyoo, 39. Injured were Nisoh Eduereh, 42, and Somchit, family name unknown.

Rangae district official Suriya Ahwaekuji and six security volunteers were targeted by roadside bombs as they rushed to inspect the earlier incident in Ban Kujing Lupah.

Three bombs went off within 15 seconds when their pickup truck passed into the area, but nobody was hurt.

Police said the two incidents in Rangae district were related and might have been committed by the same group of insurgents.-Asia News Network (August 22, 2012)