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Australian publisher arrested in Burma

Australian publisher arrested in Burma

Friday 18 February 2011, 03:18AM


Australian newspaper publisher Ross Dunkley has been arrested by Burmese authorities and locked up in the infamous Insein Prison in Yangon.

Dunkley was at one time reported to be interested in buying a weekly English-language newspaper in Phuket.

Officially he has been detained for immigration breaches, but it is understood his arrest may have stemmed from a business conflict with his Burmese partner, Dr Tin Htun Oo, relating to the ownership of the Myanmar Times.

Originally from Perth, Dunkley founded the Burmese paper in 2000 with backing from Bill Clough, an Australian mining, oil and gas entrepreneur.

David Armstrong, Dunkley’s business partner in the Phnom Penh Post, said Dunkley was due in court on February 24.

He is charged with overstaying a visa which carries a maximum jail term of two years, or a fine, or both.

Dr Oo, the company’s Burmese majority owner, was appointed chief executive and editor-in-chief of the Burmese-language edition of the Myanmar Times after a meeting on Sunday. Clough was appointed acting managing director and editor-in-chief of the English-language edition.

Dr Oo and his wife own 51 per cent of the shares in the company, and Mr Clough owns 49 per cent in partnership with his father, Harold, and Mr Dunkley.

When he launched the paper in 2000 Mr Dunkley and his partners owned 49% but had to have a majority local owner. Initially it was Sonny Swe, the son of Brig Gen Thein Swe, a former attaché to the Burmese embassy in Bangkok.

Gen Swe was one of the key figures in the Burmese junta which has now handed over to a supposed democratic government made up almost entirely of former junta military officers.

Although Mr Dunkley launched the newspaper as Burma’s first truly independent newspaper, its content had to go through military censors who often deleted stories the regime didn’t approve of.

However, the Myanmar Times was granted special dispensation to cover sensitive domestic issues such as a status of revered figure Aung San Suu Kyi and UN officials.

But in 2004 things changed when junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe purged his entire intelligence service and Thein Swe was sentenced to more than 100 years in prison.

His son Sonny, who was deputy chief executive office of the Myanmar Times was convicted of committing economic crimes and sentenced to 14 years in jail.

The regime then hand-picked Dr Tin Htun Oo, who was closely associated with junta leaders, as Dunkley’s new business partner and handed him Sonny Swe’s 51% interest in the newspaper.

Dr Oo was a candidate in the November general elections but lost his bid for the Yangon constituency.

It is believed military authorities had taken a dislike to Mr Dunkley and that he was in conflict with Dr Oo over ownership.

Mr Dunkley is a well-known figure in Myanmar and also co-owns the Phnom Penh Post in Cambodia.

He also launched Vietnam’s first English language weekly in the early 1990s.

Bob Dietz, Asia co-ordinator of the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists said Mr Dunkley’s arrest “should dispel any illusions that Burma is on a new path”.

It is believed that 13 journalists are in prison in Burma, making it one of the worst countries in the world for jailing journalists.    


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