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Government ally takes over newspaper after arrest of publisher

(Mizzima News/IFEX) - The Burmese government is apparently gaining control of the "Myanmar Times" newspaper, with a former pro-government political party candidate taking over the reins less than a week after its Australian publisher was arrested on immigration-related charges and poised to be deported.

On 14 February 2010, "Myanmar Times" shareholder Dr. Tin Tun Oo replaced the newspaper's imprisoned editor and publisher, Ross Dunkley, who was arrested on 10 February for alleged violation of the Burmese Immigration Act, according to sources at the newspaper.

Tin Tun Oo was a defeated candidate for the government-sanctioned Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in the Pazundaung Township constituency in the 2010 election.

He is the owner of the Swesone Media Company which employs about 60 people, and is also the publisher of the "Thuta Swesone" magazine, "Pyi Myanmar" journal, "Arrawjan" magazine and "Good Health" journal.

Sources at the "Myanmar Times" said that there was a business dispute between the owners of the paper. "I am not authorised to say whether Mr. Dunkley's shares were sold or not. But I can say Dr. Tin Tun Oo has become the new CEO of the 'Myanmar Times'", said a staff member. Another source said the board of directors of the newspaper arrived at the decision to have Dunkley replaced by Tin Tun Oo on 14 February.

One editor told Mizzima, "If either the government or the USDP party is looking for a ready-made publishing house for their daily publication, the 'Myanmar Times' is the most eligible one."

When a notice of public properties including land, buildings and plots which are to be privatised by the State appeared in "The Mirror" on 12 February, it included a building located at No. 379-383 Bo Aung Kyaw Street, Kyauktada Township. This property is currently controlled by the Myanmar Consolidated Media Group Ltd, which also happens to own the "Myanmar Times".

Police brought Dunkley to Insein Prison on 11 February. An article in the "Phnom Penh Post" said that Dunkley would be held in Insein prison until 24 February and would not be granted bail.

"Mr. Ross Dunkley's visa will expire on February 27," according to one of his friends. "He told us that he would renew his visa, and he had to apply again after leaving Burma if his renewal request was not granted. He was arrested when he came back from Japan".

Andrew Macsay, an Australian consul in Burma, said that Dunkley was in good health when he visited the publisher in Insein Prison on 12 February.

Many publications in the Rangoon community are lining up to publish daily newspapers, anticipating permission from the government.

David Armstrong, a co-owner with Dunkley of the Cambodian daily "Phnom Penh Post", said on 12 February that he was concerned over the arrest of Dunkley.

The Oversea Press Club of Cambodia called for the release of Dunkley on 14 February and said that there were no grounds to imprison him. However, Section 13(1) of the Immigration Act, under which Dunkley is charged, carries a maximum sentence of up to five years.

Lawyer Aung Thein said that Dunkley is likely to be deported because of the case.

The "Myanmar Times" began publishing in 2000. Its shareholders included Sonny Swe, who had a close relationship with ousted General Khin Nyunt. Sonny Swe owned a 40 percent stake of the company and Dunkley held the largest share of 49 percent.

After General Khin Nyunt was arrested, Sonny Swe was temporarily detained and his shares were transferred to his wife, Yamin Htin Aung, until mid-2006. Yamin Htin Aung then transferred her shares to Dr. Tin Tun Oo.

The "Myanmar Times" is published weekly in both Burmese and English. It also owns "Crime News" journal and "Now" weekly fashion magazine and has more than 300 employees.

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