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Monday, August 5, 2013

[TRQ slashes Altynalmas price for quicker pay, MED approves Orix stake in TFG, and Luxembourg/Mongolia tax treaty talks begin]

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Overseas Market

Mogi: looks like TRQ will actually be able to pay back the $225m to Rio on time.

Turquoise Hill Signs Additional Agreement With Sumeru Gold for Sale of Altynalmas Gold Stake

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwired - Aug. 2, 2013) - Turquoise Hill Resources (NYSE:TRQ)(NASDAQ:TRQ)(TSX:TRQ) today announced that, in light of changes in the gold market, it has entered into an additional agreement with Sumeru Gold BV in connection with the sale of the Company's 50% interest in Altynalmas Gold Ltd (Altynalmas), which was originally announced on February 13, 2013. The supplemental agreement reflects a conditionally reduced cash consideration of US$235 million, instead of the original cash consideration of US$300 million. A key condition of the revised transaction structure requires Sumeru Gold to make an advance payment of US$235 million to the Company by August 9, 2013 ahead of completion of the transaction. Completion of the transaction remains subject to customary closing conditions including regulatory approvals from the Republic of Kazakhstan's competent authorities.

Altynalmas, a private company, holds 100% ownership of the Kyzyl Gold Project in northeastern Kazakhstan. The Kyzyl Gold Project contains the Bakyrchik and Bolshevik gold deposits. Turquoise Hill acquired an interest in the project in 1996 and acquired its stake in Altynalmas in 2008.

Link to release

 

Rio Tinto Gets Green Light Again in Mongolia

August 3 (Motley Fool) Left hand, meet right hand. The two of you ought to know what the other's doing.

Just days after Rio Tinto (NYSE: RIO) put expansion plans for its massive Oyu Tolgoi project in Mongolia on hold after being told approval of the plans would need parliament's assent -- and that wouldn't happen anytime soon because it was in summer recess -- the prime minister said the miner doesn't need the governing body's imprimatur and the work can proceed as scheduled.

Shares of Rio Tinto's subsidiary Turquoise Hill Resources (NYSE: TRQ) were crushed by the original decision. Turquoise owns two-thirds of the copper mine and its stock tumbled 28% after its parent announced that it was putting the $5 billion underground expansion on the back burner until it could get some resolution on the outstanding "22 points of dispute" it has with the government.

When the prime minister said the project still has the green light and that his cabinet needn't be involved, Turquoise stock jumped more than 10% on Thursday and followed that with another near-8% gain yesterday. Shares of the miner now sit just 10% below where they were when the imbroglio began.

Oyu Tolgoi is one of the five largest copper projects in the world, and Rio Tinto expects it to produce between 75,000 and 85,000 tonnes of copper concentrates this year. Over the life of the mine, it's anticipated that it will annually produce more than 1.2 billion pounds of copper, 650,000 ounces of gold, and 3 million ounces of silver. Shipments to China began last month after several delays imposed by Mongolia, and analysts predict that if the project gets fully financed and hits peak production, it could boost the country's economy by 35% by 2020.

No doubt the Mongolian government is looking after its own investment. It owns the other 34% stake in the project, and despite some saber-rattling at times about taking a majority stake in the mine and increasing the profits it siphons off, it wants the copper concentrates flowing from Oyu Tolgoi just as much as its partners.

Although the government says the expansion can go as planned, Rio Tinto hasn't yet made a decision as to whether it will or not and the rebound in Turquoise Hill's shares may be a bit premature.

Rio is in the midst of selling off non-core assets and earlier this year posted its first-ever loss of $3 billion. In June it sold U.S.-based nickel-and-copper mining assets to Lundin Mining for $325 million, it sold Palabora Copper in South Africa last month to a consortium of Chinese companies, and it just agreed to sell its 80% stake in an Australian copper and gold mine to China Molybdenum for $820 million. While it wants to sell its diamonds business, too, there's not much of a market at the moment for it, apparently, and it's withdrawn those plans for the time being.

Being able to conserve cash by delaying Oyu Tolgoi's expansion may not necessarily be an undesirable outcome at the moment, even though it will be counting on the copper shipments from it in the future.

Link to article

 

Mongolia says parliament approval not needed for Oyu Tolgoi financing

Aug 2 (Reuters) - Rio Tinto does not need to seek Mongolian parliamentary approval for a $4 billion financing package to fund development of an underground mine at the Oyu Tolgoi copper project, Mongolia's prime minister said.

"Parliament has already made the decision and signed their agreement," Prime Minister Norov Altankhuyag said at a weekly press briefing on Thursday (Mogi: the agreement he's referring to is the 2009 OTIA).

"Cabinet doesn't have to be involved. All issues can be discussed and decided at the board of directors' level," he added.

Rio Tinto on Monday put all work on the underground expansion of the Oyu Tolgoi mine on hold, saying it had been advised that project financing provisionally secured for the project would need to be approved by parliament.

It expected the process would take some months to work through as parliament was on summer recess.

Rio Tinto and the Mongolian government have had a bumpy relationship over the politically sensitive project, which started exporting copper earlier in July following two last-minute hiccups in securing government approval.

Oyu Tolgoi is 66 percent owned by Rio Tinto's Turquoise Hill unit, and 34 percent owned by the Mongolian government.

Turquoise Hill shares slumped as much as 28 percent after Rio's announcement on Monday, but partly recovered on Thursday to be down 16 percent from last Friday's close.

The Mongolian government has raised concerns about the cost of the expansion project and the potential that rising costs will delay when it starts receiving its share of profit from the mine.

The expansion is designed to take production to 425,000 tonnes of copper and 460,000 ounces of gold a year.

Altankhuyag told the briefing that any question over costs for the underground expansion, which is expected to cost more than $5 billion, should be resolved at the board level.

"The only issue is that the financing issue has not been thoroughly discussed at the board level. It's just a matter of a technicality," he said. "Otherwise, there is no serious conflict with Oyu Tolgoi at all."

Rio did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Production at the open pit mine and export of copper concentrate is continuing.

Link to article

 

Copper And Gold Flowing From Turquoise Hill – Part I With Harris Kupperman

August 2 (Daily Resource Hunter) A few weeks ago, "one of the largest and highest-grade copper and gold mines in the world" started production.

At short-term production goals, this mine will produce a mind-blowing 1.2 billion pounds of copper and 650,000 ounces of gold a year.

The wealth is starting to flow out of the ground and now's the time to look for profit opportunities…

The mining project – a huge copper and gold play called Oyu Tolgoi or "Turquoise Hill" – is located in Mongolia, a frontier market ripe for the picking.

Surprisingly though, today I don't want to look at the miners or the "picks and shovels" plays. After taking a look at the investment climate there's a better way to play this immense, country-altering boom.

That's why I called up a guy that's muddied his boots in Mongolia's frontier market, the CEO of Mongolia Growth Group (MNGGF), Harris Kupperman.

For a close look at this booming market, and why copper and gold are just the beginning, read below…


Frontier Market Opportunities…From Mongolia!

An Interview With Harris Kupperman, the CEO of Mongolia Growth Group

Matt Insley, Daily Resource Hunter: Harris you've had your boots on the ground, can you just give us an idea of the investment climate in Mongolia?  Also, for my sake, can you give us the basics, where Mongolia is and what the payoff to investors might be?

Harris Kupperman, Mongolia Growth Group: Sure thing, Mongolia is situated right between Russia and China.  It's a small population, with about 2.9 million people, but from an investment standpoint, it's a really interesting place because it's one of the quickest growing economies in the world, and there's high reason to believe that it'll be one of the quickest growing economies in the next decade or two.

The reason for this is simple: the country is sitting on approximately $2 trillion (with a T) worth of resources in the ground.  Copper, gold, silver, coal, oil and more — it's all going to come out of the ground over the next couple of decades, and I think Mongolia — and Mongolians in particular — will very much benefit from this boom.

The big mine that's driving this growth is a mine called Oyu Tolgoi, and it's being built by Rio Tinto.  To put this mining play in perspective, last year the GDP of Mongolia was $10 billion U.S. dollars — but on this one mine alone, there's already been over $7 billion spent.  Not to mention, they're in the process of raising another four billion to invest, so this one mine in terms of CapEx is bigger than the whole economy.

When Oyu Tolgoi starts full production in 2016 it's going to be producing roughly $8 billion dollars a year of copper. When you account for the ancillary economic activities this mine alone will almost double the GDP in roughly a three-year period.  And that's just amazing to think that the GDP of a country can double.  That's why I'm so focused on the place.

Matt: That's the typical resource story, too.  When there's that much value in the ground, it's bound to get developed.  And when it does, watch out!  Developments like that can almost turn a city around, or in this case an entire country.

So back to the Oyu Tolgoi copper mine, I've heard on a yearly basis this mine will represent 30 percent of the GDP for Mongolia. That's an astounding statistic.  Can you give us a little more insight as to where this money is starting to flow?

Harris: The whole country is basically a boomtown.  It's one of these funny places where you really need to be on the ground to understand it.

So you have a country that five, ten years ago didn't have that much in the way of wealth, and the average citizen wasn't making that much money.  And suddenly they've gotten really high paying jobs in the mining sector, and they're making a few thousand U.S. dollars a month. Prior to this mining project, some of them weren't making that much in a whole year.

All of this newfound wealth is entering the economy. It's creating a middle class. It's creating a booming economy.  For example, the IMF says that Mongolia will grow at 14% this year. Just think about it, that's more than 1 percent a month – I don't know if the U.S. will do that all year!

You just need to understand what that means to a country.  Until you've been on the ground in a place like this, it's just hard to understand and comprehend just what it all means.  But it's creating a lot of very wealthy people also, and they have money to spend.

Matt: Would you consider this boom to be similar to China or is this an altogether different story?

Harris: You need to put Mongolia in the category of other resource-rich countries.  I mean, think what happened in Abu Dhabi or Qatar or Saudi Arabia.  In those countries you have a small population and a lot of resources. There's not that many people to spread the wealth around with, so it makes everyone very rich.  I mean Qatar right now is the richest country in the world in terms of disposable income power.

You look at other places…think of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada or what's happening in the North Dakota in terms of the oil booms.  These are all booms that are happening with lots of resources, not a lot of people, and it's creating a lot of wealth in a very small concentrated area.  With Mongolia's large land mass and small population you're having the same effect.  And it's really getting concentrated into Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia.

Matt: Sticking with Mongolia's resource potential, is there any other angle to look for in Mongolia?  Does the country have anything other than this huge copper deposit?

Harris: They have a lot of resources, to be sure.  I think investors are too focused on what happens with this Oyu Tolgoi copper mine.  But that's not all that's happening.  Mongolia's a very large country, land mass wise, and they really haven't done that much exploration.  It seems that whenever they go drilling they find something.  Mongolia is very rich in coking coal, which is a huge export.  Copper, gold, iron ore, fluorspar; they've found silver. Plus, they've found lots and lots of other things.  They recently found coalbed methane, which is going to be very interesting in that China obviously needs sources of energy.  They've also found some oil.

It's one of these situations where they find something, but there isn't the investment capital available to really develop it yet.  Right now all the development money is going towards the copper mine.

Over time though, development will proceed beyond copper and that's why I think Mongolia will be a very robust and diversified boom.  Not just depending on any one mine or commodity, but really depending on the view that China is right next door.

China is the biggest consumer of copper, coal and other commodities. Mongolia has the distinction of being right next door to their biggest customer, which obviously is going to be good, particularly when you have bulk commodities, which are all based on transport cost.

Matt: So from an investment standpoint my tendencies would be to look at who's mining and we know we've got the big name there, Rio Tinto (RIO).  They're working with the Mongolian government.  I know Turquoise Hill Resources (TRQ) is there as well, but from your standpoint is that the best way to play this situation or do you have a different angle on it?

Harris: Well, the problem with investing in mining — and unfortunately I've invested in a lot of mining and not done that well – is that you're at the mercy of commodity prices, geology and management. You have financing risks, completion risks, you have all these risks, and it makes it really hard for people to invest in… unless you're a real specialist at this stuff.

My view of the mining in Mongolia is that these mines will get built.  I can't tell you if they meet their budgets or not, but they get built and they create a whole lot of jobs.  When you look at the country there's only about half a million working age men in the country.  It doesn't take that many jobs to really change the numbers.

If you look at the Oyu Tolgoi mine you have 13,000 people working at that mine.  You have another 10 or 20,000 somewhere in the supply chain.  So really you're looking at about 5 or 6 percent of the whole working age male population in one mine, and these are jobs that are paying a few thousand dollars a month compared to a few thousand dollars a year previously.

So, the way I'm thinking of playing this resource boom is through the consumer, and the best way to access the consumer is retail space on the main streets.

Take a storefront, for example.  What was originally a noodle shop (when we bought it) could be an Armani store in five years. Of course, rent is going to go up accordingly.

I think real estate is the most leveraged and ideal way to play Mongolia's boom.  You don't have to care what the price of copper does or what the tax regime is going to be.  All you know is that people are getting great jobs and they have money to spend.

Matt: Yeah, I completely agree.  Recently I visited an oil boomtown, Williston, North Dakota. And although I love looking at oil producers and service companies, even I'd have to admit there's huge opportunity in real estate.  After all, while I was there I stayed in a chain hotel and it was about the price of five-star place in New York. So if you own the pre-boom real estate and sell to the hotel company or any of the other retail spaces, you can do very well. It's all part of the resource boom trickle-down effect.

Harris: The trickle-down is really the place to be.  You get the leverage and you get the optionality of what happens, what stuff they find in the ground.  It doesn't take the individual resource risk of any one country or any one commodity or company. It's much lower risk—but the returns might actually be much better.

I think what's really interesting, and we looked at lots of these frontier economies is that real estate in general is a good place to be in a frontier economy.

Link to article

 

Prophecy Announces AGM Voting Results

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwired - Aug. 1, 2013) - Prophecy Coal Corp. ("Prophecy" or the "Company") (TSX:PCY) (OTCQX:PRPCF) (FRANKFURT:1P2) is pleased to announce the voting results for election of its Board of Directors at the Annual and Special General Meeting of Shareholders held on July 30, 2013 in Vancouver, British Columbia. The director nominees as listed in the Management Information Circular dated June 27, 2013 were elected as directors of the Company at the meeting to serve until the next Annual General Meeting. According to the proxies received and voted by ballot, the results are as follows:

Nominees

For

For
%

Against

Against
%

Withheld

Withheld
%

Number of Directors (5)

48,625,111

99.1948

%

396,548

.8052

%

John Lee

28,834,568

98.37*

%

476,365

1.63

%

Greg Hall

28,874,967

98.51*

%

435,966

1.49

%

Michael Deats

28,833,481

98.37*

%

477,453

1.63

%

Harald Batista

28,879,880

98.53*

%

431,053

1.47

%

Chuluunbaatar Baz

28,645,680

98.50*

%

440,253

1.50

%

*There were 19,935,726 non-votes reported by the scrutineers in respect of the above motion. The percentages reported in this news release are calculated on the votes cast in person and by proxy at the meeting which total 29,310,933 with respect to the above mentioned motion.

Voting results have been reported on www.sedar.com.

The Company has not adopted a majority voting policy, but will be doing so in the forthcoming months.

Link to release

 

India Globalization Capital To Benefit From Unappreciated Chinese Iron Ore Demand

August 1 (Seeking Alpha) India Globalization Capital Inc. (IGC) is a highly speculative but potentially lucrative way to play a potential rebound in emerging market development, and particularly within China. India Globalization Capital primarily operates in the materials and infrastructure industry as a supplier of iron ore to India and China.

Despite IGC's name, the company has developed into far more of a Chinese infrastructure play than an Indian one. If Chinese growth does not fall apart, the problems that have plagued IGC and the broader iron ore business could quickly evaporate, yielding substantial returns to investors. Nonetheless, an investment in IGC is certainly a speculative and reasonably high risk one, as its diminutive size and share performance should indicate. Still, it is those very characteristics that bring the potential for substantial gains if IGC's business plan works.

Widespread concerns over slowing development in China, and particularly of a potential hard landing, have combined with declining iron ore prices to cause a perfect storm of problems for IGC and companies in the industry. Iron ore prices peaked in the first quarter of 2011, at about $187 per metric ton, fell to about $135 in the fourth quarter of 2011, and continued to decline during the first three quarters of 2012. Iron ore prices dipped below $100 per metric ton in September of 2012, but spent the next two quarters increasing, and reached nearly $155 in February of this year before again selling off. Prices have been in the mid $120s for most of the last two months. Much of the weakness in Iron ore pricing is due to fear of Chinese cooling and also a strengthening U.S. dollar, which has hit most commodity prices.

Chinese steel production continues to be strong, with total production in 2013 on pace to outstrip 2012's 711 million tons by roughly ten percent. Despite concerns over Chinese cooling and a potential hard landing, there is still continued strong growth in China, with the government remaining steadfast in its urbanization and industrialization programs that are designed to move hundreds of millions of people from rural areas towards the coast and into new cities, as well as new career paths. China has also indicated it will accelerate railway programs. Though longer-term growth rates will likely lessen, there is still substantial room for growth and Chinese iron ore demand should remain relatively strong for the foreseeable future.

All of this bodes well for IGC's future prospects. The company has been acquiring iron ore interests in Mongolia from which it intends to service Chinese demand. Acquiring iron ore assets during this period of weak pricing is likely a sensible long-term strategy. In 2011, IGC acquired Ironman (Linxi H&F Economic and Trade Co.), and subsequently acquired some Mongolian mine rights in 2012. In July of 2013, IGC announced the acquisition of a 25% interest in another Mongolian mine and beneficiation plant.

IGC is still in the early stages of its plans to service Chinese iron ore demand from Mongolia, and only made its initial test shipment from its Mongolian shipping hub to China in June of this year. Multiple purchase and sale agreements should be forthcoming regarding IGC obtaining ore in Mongolia, beneficiating it in both Mongolia and China, and selling it within China. IGC has the potential to consolidate significant ore interests in Mongolia, which is still in the process of integrating itself into the global economy.

The Mongolian government appears interested in encouraging foreign investments within Mongolia, especially if those interests are collaborative with Mongolian ones. All of this indicates IGC will likely acquire and consolidate a growing portfolio of Mongolian ore assets, which should make it a growing provider of ore to China and a possible takeover target by larger global interests. A multi-billion dollar company may be disinterested in picking up small interests in a piecemeal approach, but find an already collected portfolio of holdings a more appealing acquisition. Potential acquirers could be Chinese or global steel and iron companies, such as ArcelorMittal (MT).

Beyond Chinese demand, IGC also has its titular exposure to Indian infrastructure development. India's plans to build and modernize the nation's infrastructure are in far earlier stages than China, and though they will also likely be far less grandiose, India should still end up being a growing demand source for ore, rock aggregate and other materials. Plans will include the building of roads, airports and seaports, as well as the upgrading and international standardization of already existing ones. Last year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh estimated $1 trillion in infrastructure spending over the next five years by both private and government projects. IGC is pre-qualified by the National Highway Authority of India and some other agencies for construction contracts, which should facilitate its participation in some of this development. Nonetheless, IGC's primary focus is the Chinese market and its continued collecting of Mongolian assets.

In July, IGC reported that its annual revenue grew by 92% during its prior fiscal year, and that the company is attempting to cut its cost structure by approximately 35 percent. Total liabilities declined to $4.27 million from $9.44 million in FYE 2012. The decrease in total liabilities was the result of the elimination of contingent cash payments and taxes from the Ironman purchase. Though the company was still operating at a loss, its GAAP loss decreased by about two-thirds compared to the prior year, from $7.75 million to $2.66 million.

A large portion of IGC's loss was due to non-cash interest charges and employee stock options. Those interest charges look likely be reduced going forward, and the stock options, though not ideal, should help align employee and investor interests. Insiders hold about 11.6% of the company and should clearly be interested in getting those shares higher.

Last week, Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF) reported stronger than expected results, and its CEO, Joseph A. Carrabba noted during the company's conference call that:

"Globally the steel making utilization rate remains strong at 79%, with China's crude steel production continuing to reach record levels. China's year-to-date iron ore import data is up slightly versus 2012 comparable period. And iron ore inventories at the ports and mills continued to be at multi-year lows."

These factors indicate there should be continued demand for iron ore in China and that low cost sources that are adjacent to China, and with correspondingly reduced costs of distribution, should become a desirable supply source and potential acquisition target. Moreover, Cliffs' better than expected results indicate that market concerns regarding Chinese iron ore and steel demand are overblown, and that market sentiment may soon swing to the other direction. ArcelorMital appreciated by over 17% in the last month and Cliffs should be expected to exhibit strength after its strong results and a recent period of weakness. Cliffs has also suffered from declining iron ore pricing. Any continued momentum by industry leaders should eventually work its way down to the more junior entities within the industry, like IGC.

If IGC services this continuing demand and reduces its costs structure in accordance with its stated goals, the company could operate at an annual profitable within its next fiscal year. Alternatively, if IGC continues to aggressively accumulate undervalued Mongolian assets, the company may continue to operate at a loss for an extended period, but also increase its asset base and make the company a more desirable takeover target. At that point, shares should be demonstrably higher. The most probable near-term catalyst will be announcements by the Chinese government of new development projects, though it is also entirely possible that the government may simply further ramp up steel production and stockpile inventories, which are presently at multi-year lows.

Despite all these potential tailwinds, investors must understand IGC is still a small and highly speculative investment that should be limited to a reasonable portion of a portfolio. If China has a hard landing, Mongolia changes the rules governing foreign investment, iron ore prices decline substantially, or some other external issue affects the industry, IGC could remain unprofitable and discover it overpaid for assets that presently appear at value prices. Nonetheless, and especially after Cliffs' surprising upside results, it is likely that a growing number of investors will begin to look at the iron ore industry and consider the smaller and more speculative investments within the industry. Of those, IGC appears one of the most undervalued future suppliers to China and a probable takeover candidate later this decade.

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Local Market

NatSec MSE Update: Top 20 -0.34%, Turnover 15.7 Million

August 1 (National Securities) The MSE TOP-20 Index drifted down -0.34% to 14,365.05. 24,308 shares in 18 JSC's traded with a value of 15.7m MNT. 3 shares increased, 11 shares decreased and 4 shares were static.

The top gainer was Ulaansan (UNS), a B-boarder, which soared limit-up, to 298.88 MNT. Bayankhairkhan (BHR) soared 13.42% to 300 MNT, was second-highest volume stock on the day. The major losers were Eermel (EER) and Aduunchuluun (ADL), which plunged -14.93% and -13.46%Remicon (RMC) was the most actively share of today's, with 17,500 shares traded at a value of 3.15m MNT.

Please click here to see the detailed news

Link to update

 

Montsame MSE Update: Top 20 -0.62%, Turnover 101.8 Million

Ulaanbaatar, August 2 /MONTSAME/ At the Stock Exchange trades held Friday, a total of 329 thousand and 199 shares of 13 JSCs were traded costing MNT 101 million 847 thousand and 412.00.

Rates of shares of one company increased, of six decreased and share price of six were stable.

The total market capitalization was set at MNT one trillion 401 billion 207 million 009 thousand and 209. The Index of Top-20 JSCs was 14,276.57, decreasing by 88.48 per cent against the previous day.

Link to article

 

SECURITIES OF BANKRUPT COMPANIES DELISTED FROM MSE: ORKHON JIMS NOGOO, MONGOL SHUDENZ, JAVKHLANT KHARAA, DEED BUYAN

August 2 (MSE) Based on Financial Regulatory Committee resolution no.:233 from 2013 and clauses 58 and 59.1 of "Securities listing rule" of Mongolian Stock Exchange, respectively, and through decree no.:106 of Mongolian Stock Exchange Chief Executive Officer of 25 July 2013, 410459 total issued shares of "Orkhon Jims Nogoo" JSC, 50784 total issued shares of "Mongol Shudenz" JSC, 58543 total issued shares of "Javkhlant Kharaa" JSC and 100996 total issued shares of "Deed Buyan" JSC were delisted from Mongolian Stock Exchange securities listing.

Link to release

 

"ERDENE ZAM" JSC's SHARES DELISTS FROM MONGOLIAN STOCK EXCHANGE LISTING

August 2 (MSE) Based on Financial Regulatory Commission resolution no.:213 from 2013, Mongolian Stock Exchange's "Securities listing rule" clauses 58 and 59.1, and listing examination made according to request given by "Erdene zam" JSC, respectively, by the Mongolian Stock Exchange Chief Executive Officer's decree no.:105 from 25 July 2013, "Erdene Zam" JSC's total issued 48,142,163 shares were delisted from Mongolian Stock Exchange securities listing.

Link to release

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Economy

ALTANKHUYAG: MORE NEEDS TO BE DONE TO ATTRACT FOREIGN INVESTMENT

August 2 (InfoMongolia) The Members of the Mongolian Government has returned from their 10 day break and started work from August 01, 2013. Prime Minister N.Altankhuyag held his regular 30 minute meeting with reporters at the Government House on August 01.

The only topic that interested reporters was the delay of underground expansion of Oyu Tolgoi mines.

- What is the Government's position on the delay of underground expansion of Oyu Tolgoi mines?

- After discussions, we have begun the copper concentrate exports. There are both agreeing and disagreeing sides on the matter. For instance, we began the copper concentrate exports after we came to terms to which banks income will be transferred to. In order for the underground expansion to continue, the second stage funding is necessary. We are discussing how to get this funding so that it will be beneficial for the investor and Mongolia. Therefore, we do not want to end the operations.

- The Rio Tinto stated that the underground expansion was delayed because the Government of Mongolia declared financial approval was necessary from the Mongolian Parliament. Is this true?

- Such decision was never made. The financial issue can be discussed and resolved among the Board of Members, without the involvement of the Government. The Government is not a subject to decide whether they can or cannot on this matter. Executive Director of "Erdenes Oyu Tolgoi" LLC Ts.Sedvanchig's letter incorporates that if the Government of Mongolia cannot resolve issues that are legally conflicting, the State Great Khural (Parliament) will resolve the issue. We are holding to position to sit and discuss the matter.

- While you were on summer recess, the Savings Bank was merged with the State Bank. Also, US Dollar rate has been increasing lately. What do you think of all this?

- The Bank of Mongolia is in charge of issues related to currency rates. In general, we are focusing to keep inflation at single digit rates. As for the Savings Bank matter, it does not concern the Government. Central Bank is in charge of activities and auditing banks. The Board of Directors of the Central Bank made the decision to merge with the State Bank. It was said due to the risk level of loan amounts, it was necessary to merge with another bank. The Savings Bank's loans were examined and the Central Bank kept the ones that were considered unprofitable and the ones considered profitable were given to the State Bank.

- The number of foreign investors has decreased enormously. What actions does the Government plan to take in order to increase investments?

- Right before last year's election, a law was approved related to foreign investment on investing in strategically significant sectors. Due to this, foreign investors were disinterested in Mongolia. We made changes in the law to fix this mistake.

Government owned and private sectors were differentiated. We also agree that further measures need to be taken besides making changes in the law.

Link to article

 

First 31 Days of New Mortgage Program

August 2 (Cover Mongolia) Bank of Mongolia announcement dating August 1 (in Mongolia only) reports that commercial banks have so far received requests to refinance old mortgages worth 787.3 billion. Banks accordingly have converted 408.3 billion of these mortgages of 14,452 citizens to 8%.

244.9 billion worth of new mortgage requests were received and 172.9 billion out of these of 3,310 citizens were issued with new rates.

Link to release

 

Mogi: a veeeeery important report, as a friend who showed me this said, that everyone should get familiar with. Unfortunately only in Mongolian

Mining Minister Gankhuyag & Environmental Minister Oyun's Report on Implementation of the "Law with Long Name"

May 28 (parliament.mn) --

Link to release

 

Mogi: AHA! Knew it!

Luxembourg, Mongolia to Commence Tax Treaty Negotiations

August 4 (Tax Treaties Analysis) The foreign ministers of Luxembourg and Mongolia have agreed to negotiate a tax treaty on the avoidance on double taxation, the Luxembourg Foreign Affairs Ministry announced on July 30.

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn met with Mongolia's Deputy Prime Minister Terbishdagva Dendev and Minister of Foreign Affairs Luvsanvandan Bold for bilateral meetings during an official visit to Mongolia.

During the meeting, Asselborn called for a new agreement on the avoidance of double taxation between both nations to facilitate better access to investment services. The Mongolian ministers agreed to open negotiations once the Mongolian parliament has adopted a new legal framework for foreign investment.

For More Information:

The press release can be found at http://www.mae.lu/Site-MAE/Actualites/Visite-de-travail-de-Jean-Asselborn-a-Oulan-Bator-en-Mongolie-le-mardi-30-juillet-2013.

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De Facto: What is the bank bell ringing about?

By Jargalsaikhan Dambadarjaa

August 4 (UB Post) Mongolians have been concerned about what happened recently to Khadgalamj Bank (Savings Bank) and as such, have been trying to figure out why it happened, what the next step should be, and how other banks can avoid similar incidents in the future.

Ring 1: What exactly happened?

What happened is that the government took over Savings Bank's healthy assets. If they had let Savings Bank declare insolvency, the government would have had to reimburse up to 20 million MNT of every one of the 500,000 deposit accounts held by Mongol Bank, as required by the new deposit insurance law. Furthermore, deposit accounts that had more than 20 million MNT would have been disadvantaged on their reimbursement and a total of 3,300 people would have lost their jobs. In addition to this, 1.7 million bank clients would have suffered a loss.

In order to avoid this scenario, Mongol Bank appointed a cessionary to transfer Savings Bank's assets to the State Bank; they moved the bad assets in the morning and the healthy assets and liabilities in the afternoon. Mongol Bank viewed the 162 billion MNT loan, granted by Savings Bank to its 12 subsidiary companies, as bad assets. On the other hand, Sh.Batkhuu, head of Just Group, informed the press that the bad assets also included the bad loan of 60 billion MNT provided by the Zoos and Anod banks belonging to the company, Olon Ovoot.

The procedure can also be seen as a precaution to prevent the banking sector from becoming unable to handle pressure from the loan that had been acquired by Just Group from a foreign bank (using Erdenet Mining Corporation as collateral). The debt has already reached 100 million USD, which is a heavy burden.

The total assets of State Bank, which was established after Zoos Bank was closed down, expanded five times overnight, whilst its own assets were increased by 100 billion MNT. This is money paid by our taxes.

Sh. Batkhuu stated that the government's overestimation of the value of the Olon Ovoot gold deposit was the main cause of the problem. Just Group, who were once quite influential players in our economy (mainly in fuel imports, sales and meat) have now handed over its banking business to State Bank, and its fuel business to Magnai Trade LLC. They also closed down Just Agro LLC.

Ring 2: Why did it happen?

A commercial bank is prohibited by law to grant one of its closely associated parties (shareholders, executive management teams, and members of representative council) a loan greater than five percent of its own assets. If such a loan is provided, it means either the chief executive officer granted the loan without the knowledge of the loan committee, or the members of the committee were influenced by their leader and broke the law.

It also implies that Mongol Bank found out about it later and failed to take appropriate measures in time. It is also possible that, after discovering the existence of such a loan, Mongol Bank followed procedure and established risk funds in every instance. So when the total deficit exceeded Mongol Bank's assets, State Bank took over. Why such a great amount of money (which belonged to public service) was drawn back all of a sudden, is questionable, especially if there was enough supervision- as they claimed there was.

Mongol Bank has recently injected one trillion MNT into circulation and started offering soft loans through commercial banks. If Mongol Bank keeps pulling such a huge amount of public money without warning, they have the power to take any bank out of the picture. Mongol Bank has no representative council members who are not affected by outside influences, and their executive officers (who were appointed by an agreement between political parties) make decisions on their own. It is a risk, along with the sudden pull of an enormous amount of public money.

Ring 3: What is the next step?

It has been a week since this small car was loaded with too heavy a burden, one that only a truck could handle. They say that it will be discussed in a cabinet meeting, after the ministers finish their summer break. The day after the transfer of the assets between Savings Bank and State Bank, talks stated that State Bank will be privatized after its assets are increased. Privatization is the right step towards strengthening corporate governance of State Bank and would require more operational transparency. The public money is to be spent on the expansion of State Bank assets and should be used this way.

The only problem is the decision regarding who State Bank should be privatized to. If the ownership is transferred to a commercial bank, like before, there will be no difference at all. The old orchestra will still be playing the same music despite some musicians being replaced. Furthermore, if State Bank's ownership is given to someone who has direct or indirect affiliations with the current authorities, people are likely to view the takeover of Savings Bank as a deliberate action planned from the beginning. Even if our faith in government falls through the floor, the culprits and their puppet politicians will be held responsible for their actions one way or another.

Nevertheless, State Bank shares should be offered on the domestic stock exchange by making an IPO. For a start, 60 percent of the shares should be offered, and the 100 billion MNT of public money used to expand the bank's assets ought to be recovered along with its interest payments. Then, the rest of the money generated by the IPO should be transferred into State Bank's own assets. As the price of shares goes up in the future, the remaining 40 percent should be sold and collected for the State Fund.

This privatization should create a public company where one legal entity is not allowed to own more than five percent of the shares. This will strongly boost the development of our capital market and pave the way for a future reduction in the savings rates.

Ring 4: How can we make sure that it does not happen again?

First of all, we have to demand that commercial banks disclose information about who their shareholders are. It will allow people to see which political parties, politicians or decision makers are behind which banks and enable them to make better choices based on that information. These politicians, who share hardly any difference in political ideology, are the ones who know best about what their money can do.

Furthermore, only ten percent of the total assets of our commercial banks belongs to their actual owners. The remaining 90 percent are assets that belong to deposit accounts. Therefore, it is only fair to disclose information about ownership. A bank is the only organization that is capable of pulling public capital in one place through savings. Hence, banks must be separated from politics.

Secondly, a law needs to be passed that if a bank gets bigger than one fifth of the banking system, 60 percent of its shares go to the public and privatization should be carried out. Also, we can mitigate risk by appointing a public representative to the bank's representative council. This step will play the biggest role in reducing savings and loan rates.

O.Magnai, head of the Agency for Fair Competition and Consumer Protection, must realize that banks, usually the small ones, start the battle of high-interest deposit rates. This must be stopped immediately.

Relevant organizations and associations must work hard to strengthen the independence of internal auditing of commercial banks, improve corporate governance, and enhance accountability. It is also time to put our banks into a ranking system.

If foreign triple-A rated banks come to Mongolia, there will be much fiercer competition and the necessity to carry out the above-mentioned tasks will come naturally. A bank is a trust-based organization.

The bank bell is ringing to remind us that every action a bank takes must enhance trust rather than diminish it.

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Tavan Tolgoi's Debt    

July 30 (Mongolian Economy) Tavan Tolgoi, one of the richest deposits in coking coal resources, has opened a gate with huge expectations. Tavan Tolgoi has 7.4 billion tonnes of coal, of which 1.4 billion tonnes are coking coal, while the remaining is thermal coal. Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi state-owned company has already distributed 1072 shares to each citizen of Mongolia. According to a preliminary estimate, Tavan Tolgoi is expected to mine 20 million tonnes of coal each year by 2016. The company was supposed to trade its shares on international stock markets. The company anticipates tackling its debt issue this year.

"Coal mined from Zuun Tankhi section is being delivered to Chalco according to the contract made with Chalco, and its revenue is being deducted from its USD 350 billion debt (Mogi: million of course). Currently, the debt balance amounts to USD 170 million. According to the contract, the price of coal became USD 47 per tonne since the third quarter. If this price is not going to be reduced in the future, the debt issue could be tackled by delivering 3.6 million tonnes to Chalco", said O. Erdenbulgan, the deputy mining minister.

Erdenes Tavantolgoi mined one million tonnes in 2011 and 2.5 million tonnes last year. At the end of last year, the company exported 2.5 million tonnes. The capacity of the mine is increasing each year. According to this year's plan, six million tonnes are expected to be mined from Zuun Tsankhi section, of which some 834,300 tonnes have already been mined and 372,000 tonnes have already been exported so far. From Baruun Tsankhi section, 2.5 million tonnes are expected to be mined this year, of which 128,600 tonnes have already been exported. 

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Mogi: meat most expensive at Mercury, knew it!

MEAT PRICES HAVE DROPPED

August 1 (InfoMongolia) The National Statistical Office of Mongolia conducted a product price survey in 10 grocery markets and commercial centers in 6 districts in Ulaanbaatar city during the final week of July, 2013. The results show prices of 25 types of goods are stable and prices of 11 types of goods have dropped.

1 kg of lamb with bones cost around 7,786 MNT and beef with bones cost around 8,700 MNT. Compared to the previous week, price of beef with bones dropped by 2.4% or 214 MNT and boneless beef dropped by 1.4% or 143 MNT. According to this week's indicators, beef prices are lowest at "Khuchit Shonkhor" grocery market, around 7,600 MNT but highest at "Mercury" grocery market, costing 10,500 MNT.

Compared to the previous week, lamp chop prices dropped by 2.5% or 200 MNT and boneless lamb prices dropped by 2.1% or 167 MNT. Lamb prices are lowest at "Khuchit Shonkhor" grocery market, around 7,000 MNT but highest at "Mercury" grocery market, costing 9,500 MNT.

High quality "Altan Taria" flour prices are around 930-1,050 MNT, First quality flour is 600-800 MNT, and Second quality flour is 500-600 in large markets and stores in the city center. High quality "Altan Taria" flour prices at "Bars" market is 950 MNT, First quality flour is 650 MNT, and Second quality flour is 500 MNT. Price of "Atar" bread is around 775-850 MNT and is the lowest at "Bumbugur" market for 775 MNT and highest in "Marco", "Tavan-Erdene", "Khuchit Shonkhor", and "Max" markets for 850 MNT.

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PREMIER WARNS COMPANIES TO DO ROADS WELL

Ulaanbaatar, August 1 /MONTSAME/ Those companies slackening the road construction must give up the work because there are other ones who can do it much better, the Prime Minister N.Altankhuyag  Thursday said at a weekly "30 Minutes of Premier" meeting with the media.

He criticized these companies for neglecting the road construction, for example, a company in Dornod, once given a warning, is not seen as capable of completing the work by time given, and it promised to finish it by November. "Otherwise, the company may transmit the construction to another executor," the Premier said.

Some companies really can not deal with the work, for example, the "Nasnii Zam" has passed to other entities a construction of 64 km road in Dornod aimag, but still must run 173 kilometers, he added.

The Premier also said that the construction of paved roads to a center of Uvs is in progress,   expected to be opened in 2015.

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Politics

Mongolian President Pardons Imprisoned Predecessor and Longtime Rival

Former President Enkhbayar Nambar Was Convicted Last Year on Corruption Charges

August 2 (WSJ) Mongolia's recently re-elected president pardoned his predecessor and longtime political rival, which will allow him to leave jail.

In a statement Thursday, President Elbegdorj Tsakhia said he exercised his power to pardon former President Enkhbayar Nambar, "and release (him) from the remaining term of the sentence." The statement provided no basis for the decision.

Mr. Enkhbayar, 55 years old, was convicted in 2012 of a range of corruption offenses and sentenced to a four-year term that he was serving in a detention facility. Later that sentence was about halved. Mr. Enkhbayar wasn't immediately available for comment.

After his arrest in April 2012, the former president declared repeatedly his innocence. He said his jailing, on the eve of parliamentary elections, was orchestrated by Mr. Elbegdorj to keep him from seeking office. Mr. Enkhbayar, who was president from 2005 until 2009, had planned a run for parliament as the start of a political comeback.

Mr. Elbegdorj, 50, denied influencing events that led to Mr. Enkhbayar's arrest by an independent Mongolian government corruption watchdog. Mr. Elbegdorj was elected in June to a second four-year term as president.

Mongolia, a huge resource-rich nation of 2.9 million wedged between Russia and China, was an investment darling when commodity prices were higher. But investors now say their interest has waned, reflecting weaker commodity prices and political challenges that have complicated mining.

Mining giant Rio Tinto PLC said this week it would delay a $5.1 billion underground expansion of its massive Oyu Tolgoi gold and copper mine in Mongolia pending parliamentary approval of some aspects of the project. Mongolia's small, mining-fueled economy continues to sizzle: The International Monetary Fund predicts the gross domestic product will expand 14% this year.

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BILL ON CITY RE-DEVELOPMENT TO BE SUBMITTED

Ulaanbaatar, August 2 /MONTSAME/ At its regular meeting on Friday, the cabinet decided to submit to the State Great Khural a draft law on re-developing cities.

Current primary laws on urban development and lands have gone out of date due to intensive socio-economic development, so it is required to pass new laws, the draft initiators said.

The bill aims to regulate relations in re-planning settlement areas of cities and villages and public lands in use, in pulling down non-standard buildings, and in re-planning ger (national dwelling) areas under am aim to ensure people's right to live in healthy and safe environment, they said. 

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President's Mother Passes Away

Ulaanbaatar, August 2 /MONTSAME/ A mother of the current President Ts.Elbegdorj, Khoninkhuu Borjoo, passed away due to illness at 11.22 am on Friday at the age of 92.

Ms Khoninkhuu gave birth to eight sons. The President is her youngest son. 

A number of her grandchildren and grand-grandchildren has reached 150 people.   

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'Reform' movement of Mongolian People's Party calls for reform

August 2 (UB Post) The "Reform" movement of the Mongolian People's Party (MPP) held its meeting on July 31 and called on its members for reform. They appealed to them that it is time to admit their defeats and unite under one sole purpose of reforming their party.

The party members said, "All MPP members must realize their own responsibilities and duties to make every possible effort to serve for the development and reform of the party as well as to further the progress of Mongolia, for the sake of thousands of members of MPP given that defeats are actually good foundations of upcoming victories.

"Though we haven't been selected by majority in various elections, party members should focus on what principles to follow in order to properly advance forward instead of worrying about the weakening hopes and trusts of MPP supporters. The 'Reform' movement relies on the partnership of all generations of supporters.

"It is easy to fix a building with a proper foundation. Likewise, for a bright future of our home country, members of MPP should start making reforms. It will be of great significance for the MPP, Mongolia, and society.

"Thus, we call on all the members and our supporters to practically contribute towards reform and join our movement."

The 'Reform' movement urged its administrators to hold the party meeting before the Naadam Festival and set the date of the regular meeting urgently.

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Business

TFG: MONGOLIA WELCOMES NEW STRATEGIC INVESTOR IN ITS FINANCIAL SECTOR

Ulaanbaatar, 2 August 2013 (TFG) – Mongolia's TenGer Financial Group ("TFG" or the "Group") announces that the Ministry of Economic Development approved today its investment agreement signed with ORIX Corporation of Japan, thus endorsing the entry of a new strategic investor in TFG. It is anticipated that the regulatory approval from The Bank of Mongolia (Mongolbank) will follow in due time as set forth in its internal rules. As a result, ORIX Corporation of Japan will acquire approximately 16 percent of TFG's shares. This new investment is part of a larger ownership transformation process at TFG as some of the existing shareholders of the Group exit by selling their shares to the new investors and as indirect shareholders restructure their holdings in the Group.

Further, TFG's existing shareholder IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, signed also an investment agreement with TFG and two advisory agreements with its flagship subsidiary – XacBank. The investment agreement increases IFC's equity stake in Tenger to 19 percent from 15 percent, while the advisory agreements will strengthen further XacBank's capacity. As part of restructuring, indirect shareholders of TFG - Mongolyn Alt Corporation and Ronoc – are in the process of becoming direct shareholders in the Group.

"The entry of ORIX Corporation of Japan in to Mongolia is expected to open more opportunities for international private investors" said Batbayar Nyamjav, Cabinet Member, Minister of Economic Development of Mongolia. "A diverse and balanced shareholding structure combining international reputational investors as well as Mongolian business representations is the driving force to further strengthen the governance and institutional capacity of the Mongolian financial industry" said Zoljargal Naidansuren, Governor of Mongolbank. "With the strategic partnership of the Mongolian and international investors, TFG is considering to strengthen its existing businesses and expand into new areas of business capitalizing on business expertize, know-how and network of its new partners" said Bold Magvan, Chief Executive Officer of TenGer Financial Group.

Established in 1964, ORIX Corporation (www.orix.co.jp) is a leading integrated financial services group, based in Tokyo, Japan, with a global network of companies in insurance, leasing, banking, real estate and leisure and other services spanning 27 countries and regions worldwide.

IFC (www.ifc.org) has been working with Tenger and its subsidiaries since 1999 and became a shareholder of the company in 2008. IFC and Tenger jointly established a micro-credit company in western China to help expand access to finance to micro and small Chinese businesses.

MAK Mongolyn Alt Corporation (www.mak.mn) is one of the largest business groups in Mongolia with assets in mining, aviation, construction and tourism. MAK invested jointly with TFG and IFC in the micro-credit company in Xinjiang, China.

Ronoc (www.ronoc.ie) is an Irish based private investment and advisory business operating in a broad range of businesses; including microfinance, retail financial services, and executive search services. Ronoc has been investing in Mongolia since 2008.

TenGer Financial Group is a group of companies, including XacBank, XacLeasing, TenGer Insurance, TenGer Capital, TianRong and XacSecurity, all providing fair access to broad financial services. Please visit our website www.tengerfinancialgroup.com for information about the TenGer Financial Group.

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Round Table Pizza Opens Its First Restaurant in Mongolia

ULAANBAATAR, Mongolia, August 2--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Round Table Pizza, an American pizza restaurant icon known for gourmet quality and fresh innovation, became the second American restaurant chain to open in Mongolia. Located on one of Ulaanbaatar's busiest commercial streets, the new Round Table had its grand opening party fittingly on July 4. Among the many that celebrated the opening was the United States Ambassador to Mongolia who celebrated another successful American/Mongolian partnership. The new restaurant was particularly welcomed by the many Mongolians and American ex-patriots who lived in California and missed Round Table Pizza. "It took a lot of training and logistics to bring the authentic taste of Round Table Pizza to Mongolia," notes Director of International Operations Mike Buck, "but it's worth it when you see so many satisfied customers." The location is operated by Mongolia International Food Holding, which plans on developing 10 restaurants in Mongolia.

About Round Table Pizza

Founded in California's San Francisco Bay Area, Round Table Pizza was founded in 1959 to create a place where families could relax and share a superb pizza. Today Round Table Pizza remains true to its founder's vision with 450 restaurants across the western United States and the world. Round Table's signature tagline, "The Last Honest Pizza", describes its commitment to quality and authenticity.

About Mongolia International Food Holding

Mongolia International Food Holding ("MIFH"), based in Ulaanbaatar, was founded by partners from Mongolia and the Gulf Cooperation Council. MIFH is an investor, developer and operator of international fast food franchise businesses across Mongolia and Central Asia.

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Mary and Martha supporting artisans the fair trade way

By Tegan Chapman

August 4 (UB Post) A social enterprise business run by two Britons is making a real difference for artisans in Mongolia.

Mary and Martha Mongolia, is a small business based in Ulaanbaatar that works to offer opportunities to Mongolian people to ensure they get a fair price for their hand crafted goods.

The shop, which focuses on items handmade by Mongolians and Mongolian Kazakhs, moved to its present location in central Ulaanbaatar last year. In 2011, they received a membership certificate from the World Fair Trade Organization, making it the first fair trade business in the country.

Shop owners Bill and Irene Manley left the UK 11 years ago and started the shop, whose name is derived from the Bible, in a bid to be the bridge bringing together the skills, creativity, and products of artisans, helping them to reach markets they otherwise could not have reached.

"We want to demonstrate that ethical, transparent, fair trade business is viable in Mongolia and that everyone in the supply chain can make a living wage or better, and I think by becoming the first World Fair Trade Organization registered business in Mongolia, we have proved that," said Irene, who is originally from Perth in Scotland.

"Mongolia is huge, and our network of artisans spreads across the length and breadth of the country.

"By networking small businesses from the far-flung parts of Mongolia, we enable people to stay in the countryside – avoiding the need to migrate to the capital city to survive.

"Artisans can earn an income all year round, they can feed their families, and they can have other choices in life, such as providing education for children and providing medicine if a family member is sick. Life is not just so much on the edge as it is for many people here.

"We would like our projects to be able to sit on a shelf in another country and look good and look that they are there because of the quality and design.

"We are not a charity. People are not supporting the products because they are sorry for Mongolia or sorry for the artisans but the product is actually a worthwhile product in its own right."

Mary and Martha Mongolia is located off Peace Ave, northwest of 40K Bistro.

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Ulaanbaatar

The Mongolist: In Defense of Hero Diversity

August 4 (Brian White, The Mongolist) Recently the Ulaanbaatar city council voted to rename Sukhbaatar Square to Chinggis Square. This came as a surprise for many in the city because there was no formal public debate about the proposed change leading up to the vote. The decision may have been quiet and swift, but it sparked a raucous public debate nevertheless.

Strong opinions about whether the change was justified exploded in newspapers, television programs, and social media. The proponents of the change seemed to base their argument on historical aesthetic. To paraphrase the argument, Chinggis Khaan is the founder of the Mongol Nation, and he is celebrated with a monument complex in front of the parliament building. Having the square in front of that complex named after a 20th century person sends the wrong message about when the nation came into being. Opponents of the change generally argued from a point of respect towards Sukhbaatar's contribution to Mongolia's present independence and deference towards 90 years of tradition. But, there was also just a sense that the city council overstepped its authority by not consulting the population on this issue before making such a controversial decision. To make matters worse, the general sense I have gotten from the commentary is that the city council is on the wrong side of public opinion on this issue.

I have great respect for Mongolian tradition and history, and Chinggis Khaan is a national hero with international stature well worth celebrating. But, it strikes me as unfortunate that there isn't a strong social movement towards celebrating more diversity among national heroes. Granted, Chinggis Khaan was publicly portrayed as a villain during the Socialist Period, but the excesses of that period shouldn't justify the current excess of pushing other national heroes to the periphery. For those still harboring resentment over the excesses of the Socialist Period, though, it probably doesn't help that the MPRP used 20th century heroes like Sukhbaatar as mascots during and after that period more for political purposes than national unity. But, it seems hardly Sukhbaatar's fault his image was co-opted posthumously to serve a controversial ideological purpose. However his image may have been used or abused after his death, I believe most people would agree he is a person worth naming a square after. He was an instrumental part of wresting Mongolia from the Chinese sphere of influence, paving the way for the country's eventual full independence as a democratic nation in the 1990s. Moreover, he died under mysterious circumstances at a very young age at a time when many leaders in the country began dying of mysterious and sometimes not so mysterious causes. He quite literally gave his life for his country.

There are many other prominent heroes, too. Natsagdorj, Dazanravjaa, Zanabazar, to name some obvious ones. To promote gender diversity we might include Sukhbaatar's wife Yanjmaa who is the second woman in history to be elected a head of state, among many other significant accomplishments during her life. Of course, deciding who deserves to be recognized as a national hero creates its own controversies, but surely that is a better debate to have than one over how many more things can be named after Chinggis Khaan.

Mongolia is much more than Chinggis Khaan, and yet this march towards homogeneity in national history and identity reinforces the idea ever so subtly that all of Mongolia's greatness peaked in the 13th century. After all, if Sukhbaatar does not qualify for having the main square in the city he was born in and eventually liberated named after him, then what hope does anyone have their contributions will be recognized and celebrated by the nation? The standard seems to be, "Conquer the world, then we'll talk." It's unfortunate, because this country has produced many people worth celebrating since 1227. Heroes of the 13th century should be able to mingle freely with heroes of other centuries in the public space, because they are all Mongolians who contributed to the nation as it is today.

There is a petition set up by Mogi at CoverMongolia for those who would like to see Sukhbaatar Square keep its name. It is here. For now the vote to change the name is more symbolic than real, because the city council cannot force people to call the square something they don't want to call it. Yet, it still stinks, and I definitely don't agree with it. Instead, here's to supporting diversity among national heroes. Keep Sukhbaatar Square as Sukhbaatar Square.

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Diplomacy

Khaan Quest military exercises kick off in Mongolia

ULAN BATOR, Aug. 3 (Xinhua) -- The annual Khaan Quest military exercises kicked off here Saturday with the participation of over 1,000 peacekeepers from 14 countries such as the United States, Germany and Japan.

Mongolian Prime Minister Norov Altankhuyag said at the opening ceremony that the multinational peacekeeping drill hosted by Mongolia was aimed at increasing military exchanges between Mongolia and other countries.

Khaan Quest was launched by Mongolia and the United States jointly in 2003 and expanded to a multinational drill in 2006.

Peacekeepers from Mongolia, the United States, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, India, Indonesia, South Korea, Tajikistan, Britain, Nepal and Vietnam joined the games. Delegates from China, Russia, Turkey and Kazakhstan took part as observers.

Khaan Quest 2013, which lasts through Aug. 14, consists of a command post exercise and field training exercise at Five Hills Training Area in Ulan Bator.

The military exercise of this year has two additional training programs -- water patrol and the art of surviving. These lessons will be given by troops from the U.S Marine Corps, according to a high-ranking Mongolian officer.

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FCO: Mongolia travel advice

Latest update: Summary - villages quarantined due to livestock diseases

July 30 (UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office) Mongolia takes border security very seriously and foreign nationals are not routinely permitted access to border areas. The authorities can regard zones of up to 100km inside the border as a border area. If you wish to travel in these areas, you must get permission from the State Frontier Guard Authority. Only a few specified land border crossings are open to foreigners. See Border crossings.

Due to recent outbreaks of various livestock diseases the following 'soums' (villages) in the west of Mongolia have been quarantined: Sagsai, Ulaanhus and Tsengel (Bayan-Ulgii); Tsengel (Arkhangai); Bayanlig (Bayankhonogor); and Ulgii (Uvs). Travel to and from these villages has been stopped. The Russia and China border crossings remain open. If you plan to travel in or around these areas, check local advice before leaving.

There is a low threat from terrorism. See Terrorism.

Avoid going out on foot alone at night. Foreigners stand out and can be targeted for attack because of their comparative wealth. See Crime.

Over 7,120 British nationals visited Mongolia in the period January to June 2012. Most visits are trouble-free.

Take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before you travel.

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Social, Environmental and Other

Asia Pacific Research Prize awarded to CSRM Research Fellow

July 17 (Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining) Byambajav Dalaibuyan, CSRM Postdoctoral Research Fellow, is one of four winners of the Asia Pacific Research Prize for 2013. Byambajav has received a prestigious Commendation award for his PhD thesis, titled "Post-socialist transition and the transformation of civil society in Mongolia".

His thesis examined the longitudinal and macro societal dynamics of Mongolian civil society, with a focus on the dynamics of civil society and the mining industry in Mongolia. Byambajav received his PhD degree in sociology from Hokkaido University, Japan in 2012.

The Asia Pacific Research Prize was established in 2001 by the Asia Pacific Forum-Awaji Conference Japan to reward superior doctoral dissertations on humanities and social sciences. The dissertations must pertain to the Asia-Pacific area, and be written by Japanese and international students studying at graduate schools in Japan.

Prize winners are selected after strict examination by the selection committee, and receive an award certificate and a commemorative gift. The presentation ceremony coincides with the Awaji Conference on August 2, 2013 in Kobe, Japan.

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PROPER NUTRITION FOR MONGOLIAN BABIES

August 1 (World Vision) Today through August 7 is World Breastfeeding Week! Coordinated by UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and a variety of other partners, this year's theme highlights peer counseling programs for mothers.

Through World Vision, mothers and infants in Mongolia are benefiting from such initiatives. Find out how!

*     *     *

Five-month-old baby girl Gereltnaran rolls over on a mattress on the floor of a 160-square-foot ramshackle clay house. She lives there with her family of five, her grandparents, and an aunt.

She likes when her mother carries her and lets her sit on her lap. She plays by herself and smiles, looking around at every person in the house. She doesn't cry much unless she's hungry; then she suckles loudly at her mom's breast.

Gereltnaran's house is very poorly furnished. There is one old bed, one table, two chairs, a 1980s television, and a bin on one side of the furnace; on the other side, there is one table, a mechanical washing machine, and a cupboard.

Her mother Ulaanaa, 29, is a housewife. Baatarpurev, her father, has to live more than 30 miles away so he can work as a brick-layer to support his family. He visits his family once a month. They have three children. Since they got married, they have been living with Ulaanaa's parents.

Ulaanaa used to sell scrap iron, earning about US$15 some days — but on other days, she was unable to find any scrap iron and made no income at all. She stopped working when her firstborn son arrived. Now her husband is earning US$330 monthly and provides for his family and in-laws.

Ulaanaa doesn't have enough breast milk to nourish her baby adequately, so she had no choice but to feed her 3-month-old with baby cereal only.

Cute baby Gereltnaran was underweight.

Ulaanaa discovered the Positive Deviance Hearth project through Myagmar, a health clinic staff member who cooperates with World Vision's Tolgoit community. The project was implemented by World Vision and local medical clinic centers to teach lactating mothers how to make more nutritious food for their babies.

Over the past three years, Tolgoit has cooperated with seven local health clinics to implement the 12-day project. Twenty mothers and 20 babies attended from May 23 to June 4. Mothers who attended were encouraged to teach what they learned to other mothers of malnourished children.

Over the 12 days of the program, Gereltnaran gained 1.45 kilograms (about 3.2 pounds). Ulaanaa plans to coach five mothers in the near future. It is now the Mongolian summer, and local residents often go to the countryside to enjoy the beautiful weather before the harsh winters arrive, which usually bring temperatures of 20-40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. These mothers will be at the countryside through August.

"There are many malnourished babies," says Myagmar. "We have 917 children under 5 years old. We could only choose 20 babies due to capacity limitations. Children were tested before they were able to participate because sick children wouldn't gain weight even when fed nutritious food. The parents liked the way their babies were rehabilitated in this training.

"I am really grateful to World Vision for helping these 20 babies," Myagmar adds. "The result of the training is that the children won't catch cold so easily. They will be a healthy weight, won't have a vitamin D deficiency [rickets] in the winter, and the incidence of anemia will be greatly reduced. World Vision provides food and dairy products for the training at the health clinic center.

"We gather together at 10 a.m. and place the babies on the sand of the playground outside. We call the training the health strengthening camp. We apply some vegetable oil or water on the babies' bodies, which encourages their skin to absorb the sun and produce vitamin D. We massage them under the sun and cover their legs with sand and let them sit or lay down."

Smiling, Ulaanaa says, "I thank World Vision and sister Myagmar for helping the malnourished children."

She lays her baby on a mattress on the floor. "I am feeding my baby well. And I will visit five mothers to help and check that they are applying what they learned after they come back from the countryside."

Your one-time donation will provide a New Mother and Baby Kit to a mother-to-be, providing the supplies she needs to care for her baby in those first critical weeks of life. Each kit includes items like a bassinet, cloth diapers, a blanket, soap, and a container for clean water. Your gift will also provide infant care training for new mothers.

Link to release

 

The VSO in Mongolia: Mainstreaming disability for a much better society

By JERICK AGUILAR

August 1 (UB Post) Part of the experience of a foreigner living overseas is to meet other foreigners living overseas. This is very much different from a tourist meeting fellow tourists in the same country because they have the same, if not a similar, reason for being there – to visit its sights. For foreign residents obviously and however, there are different explanations as to why they chose to spend some of their professional lives in another country such as Mongolia. Mine was to teach in a place where I had never been. And for a handful of people I know in UB, theirs was to volunteer in helping disabled Mongolians.

These people I have met are volunteers from the VSO which stands for the Volunteer Service Organization. I am not from this organization so I cannot write much about it except that the VSO is the UK's equivalent of the US' Peace Corps. These volunteers, not just from these two organizations but from other international NGOs as well that are operating in Mongolia, are talented and skillful individuals. Most of them I know or I heard about have left high-paying jobs in their home countries so that they can start helping people around the world. And it so happened that most of my VSO acquaintances and friends have given their attention to Mongolians living with disabilities.

According to the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People in 2006, "PWDs (People With Disabilities) include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on equal basis with others." The VSO uses this definition along with the one from the Mongolian Law on Social Security for Persons with Disabilities, stating "the term 'a disabled person' means an individual with a permanent inability to engage in social relations by reason of physical, mental, or sensory impairments which can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months."

In the organization's Position Paper in 2001, it states that "(the) VSO supports a right-based, inclusive approach (to PWDs) which recognizes that society must change if disabled people are to achieve full inclusion and active, barrier-free participation." In their Disability Goal, they explain further that "(the) VSO aims to support disabled people in exercising their rights and to promote their full inclusion and active participation as equal members of their families, communities, and societies." VSO is also "committed to including more disabled people as active and equal partners in its work as partners, volunteers, and staff."

The VSO believes that PWDs have the same needs as non-disabled people which are fundamental, basic, political, and psycho-social. Fundamental needs include the right to life, communication, mobility, equal opportunities, and social acceptance; basic needs such as food, clean water, shelter, health, education, as well as income and employment; political needs like the freedom to speak, freedom to associate, right to organize, representation, as well as legal and voting rights; and psycho-social needs, namely, friends and relationships, family, reproductive rights, and equal access to services.

In its approach to mainstreaming disability particularly in Mongolia, the VSO conceptualized The Social Model of Disability that was actually put together by PWDs themselves. The model is a way of looking at disability and sees that it is society holding disabled people back which stops them from taking part like non-disabled people. Hence, many of the problems experienced by PWDs are due not to their specific impairments but to the way society is organized and the barriers it creates. These societal barriers include prejudice and stereotypes, inflexible organizational procedures and practices, as well as inaccessible information, buildings, and means of transport.

With the help of its volunteers, the VSO is encouraging and promoting several shifts in society's thinking about disability, namely, from it being an individual to a societal problem; that differences in abilities are not inadequacies but assets; seeing strengths instead of deficits; from special service provision to accessible mainstream services; from society choosing for PWDs to PWDs choosing for themselves; that professionals do not always know best because people have different kinds of knowledge; from a charity to a rights-based approach; to treat PWDs as citizens and not patients; from an institution to a community-orientated strategy; and from the exclusion-tolerance "us and them" to the inclusion-valuing "all of us."

In terms of inaccessibility, the VSO has observed that Mongolia has a disabling environment for PWDs. Much of everywhere and in most aspects of social and working life, physical arrangements and urban-rural designs only serve the non-disabled majority. More specifically, the aisles in shops and the height of food items on shelves are inaccessible for wheelchair users, as well as the corridors in offices, width of doors, height of public phone boxes, and other public amenities such as ATMs of Automated Teller Machines. The problem is even exacerbated with the current design of buses and trains that do not accommodate them; and by obstacles on walkways and pavements such as badly parked vehicles, broken or uneven paving, as well as current roadwork that ignores their need for easy passage. There is also the absence of ramps and elevators for them. To the inconvenience of deaf people, there are no text telephones for them to use. In addition, there is a scarcity of visual signs for visually impaired people directing them to safety and warning them against danger.

More importantly, however, the VSO deems that accessibility is not just about physical access but also ensuring that PWDs are not discriminated against in any way, either passively such as lack of information or actively like employers or other people abusing them. The VSO is realistic in that change cannot happen overnight. It reminds its volunteers to always stop and think, asking how they can help change the lives of disabled Mongolians and strategizing simple ways that can make a big and lasting impact. Change is, indeed, a slow process so volunteers are encouraged to start small with an achievable goal.

I am very much honored to have met and become friends with these VSO volunteers. They are an inspiration particularly with regard to volunteerism. How I wish I had enough money to travel and not work so that I can spend my time helping others like they do. I personally do not know any disabled person from where I am from and here in Mongolia. But it is good to know that there is an organization that cares for them and volunteers who want to make a difference in their lives and in Mongolian society. Here is hoping that the VSO makes its presence even much stronger in the country.

Link to article

 

MONGOLIA TO COLLABORATE WITH JAPAN IN IMPROVING MEDICAL DOCTORS

Ulaanbaatar, July 30 /MONTSAME/ The Vice Minister of Health J.Amarsanaa met Tuesday a delegation of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

The sides discussed issues of realizing a technical cooperation project on improving the quality of first and second-stage medical aid services by strengthening training programme and human resources.

Proposed by the government of Mongolia, the project aims to improve professional skills and knowledge of the medical doctors and experts at city and provinces' hospitals and to refine upon the training and mid-career training for doctors.

It is expected that the project will launch in a first quarter of the next year. For the time being, the sides are working on the project's documents.  

Link to article

 

Bogd Khaan's Brown Palace to become a museum

July 31 (UB Post) Out of four palaces of Bogd Khaan, only the Green Palace is operational now. The Brown Palace, or Khaistain Laviran, is located in the 11th Khoroo of Khan-Uul District and is watched over by only one guard family. Its appearance has deteriorated significantly as it has been abandoned for many years.

However, to the delight of the Mongolian art community, the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism (MCST) has decided to renovate the Brown Palace and operate it as a public museum.

Below is a short interview with B.Davaatseren, Cultural Heritage Division expert at MCST.

-Why has MCST decided to use the Brown Palace as a museum?

-This palace fell under state protection in 2008 and was enlisted as property of Ulaanbaatar. In 2008, it was decided that the IKEL Foundation would oversee it for five years and that contract ends in late 2013. Chief of the Ulaanbaatar City Representative's Council, D.Battulga, received a request to renovate the Brown Palace to its original design and use it as a museum.

-This palace building was rented to individuals for a while, but is it legal to use a building under state property for business matters?

-It was rented to individuals when it was under the ownership of the Academy of Management. But from now on the palace will not be used for business matters.

-Will some of the artifacts from the Bogd Khaan Palace Museum be exhibited at the Brown Palace?

-No. Visitors will be able to see how the original Brown Palace was decorated with magnificent craftsmanship.

-The palace building is quite deteriorated. You said the palace will be renovated. Will it be demolished and rebuilt?

-I'm not sure. We will decide whether to demolish or repair it after studying the renovation design.

Link to article

 

On the Move in Mongolia: sound portraits of Mongolian women

There I was, an Indian woman on the move in a strange new land -  Mongolia - and it didn't feel so strange. So much resonated - especially the voices of other women - like Monjago, a nomadic herder, Munkhtsetseg, a horse trainer, Onika, a student, Amgalan, a language teacher and Jainaa, a singer. They made faraway feel like home.  
Produced and researched by Shebana Coelho

Sounds and images for these segments were collected on a 2007 Fulbright fellowship 
Produced for Outer Voices  (outervoices.org) 
Story Consultant/Executive Producer: Stephanie Guyer-Stevens 
Additional Translations: Munkhzul Dorjsuren, Oyu Choijamts, Delgerjargal Uvsh

BROADCAST/PRESENTATIONS

·         The radio documentary premiered  Sat, October 20, at 12 pm on KUNM's WOMEN's FOCUS, hosted by Carol Boss.

                Listen to my interview with Carol Boss 
                Listen/Order CD of the radio documentary 

·         Multimedia presentation at the Embassy of Mongolia in D.C on Friday, December 21, sponsored by the Mongolian Cultural Center.

On the Move in Mongolia was produced for Outer Voices (www.outervoices.org) which showcases the seldom-heard voices of women the world-over working for peace and preservation of cultural wisdom. The documentary received post-production funding from The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation and The Lucius & Eva Eastman Fund. 

Link to audio

 

In Mongolia, the Skyline by the Steppes

August 2 (The New York Times) In September the hills around Ulan Bator, the rough and roiling capital of Mongolia, are flecked with wildflowers. Below them, districts of gers, or yurts, encircle the city. The circular canvas structures, insulated with felt and supported by poles, have housed central Asian nomads since before the time of Genghis Khan — before there even was a Mongolia. Now, half of the nation's population lives permanently in or near the capital. Look beyond the gers, to where the offices and condominiums rise, and you'll see why: Ulan Bator is booming. Construction cranes spike the sky. Traffic — Hummers and Lexuses, jacked-up jalopies and crammed city buses — churns. It's impossible to ignore the economic surge that copper, gold and coal mining have brought to the city in recent years.

It has brought visitors, too. In the past decade, as Mongolia's G.D.P. has more than doubled, tourism has increased along with it. In the first half of last year more than 280,000 travelers visited Mongolia (mostly from China, Russia and South Korea, with Americans the fourth-largest group), on track to beat by 50 percent the number of annual visitors just a decade ago. Yet, despite this influx, Mongolia remains the world's least densely populated country — just over three million people inhabit its 600,000 square miles. This is a land where, in the vast sweep of endless steppes, you can lose yourself in quietude.

Unless you're still in Ulan Bator, along with nearly half the country's population.

"U.B.," Dan Bailey told me on my first day in the city, "is the worst part of Mongolia." As a fishing guide who leads treks along the country's rivers, he should know. And by evening I was ready to agree with him. After all, I hadn't come to Mongolia to see a city. Hardly anybody does. Most tourists find themselves in Ulan Bator because that's where Genghis Khan International Airport is; they tend to leave as soon as they can.

But in a week of wandering its streets I got to know two Ulan Bators: the clamorous one of concrete and crowds that assaults you upon arrival, and the culturally rich, charismatic one that embraces you once you give it a chance. In 1990 protesters threw off the yoke of a splintering Soviet Union. Though that uprising might seem fitting for a land that was once home to an irrepressible horde of conquering horsemen, the current economic revolution has led to an industrial boom at odds with the pastoral Mongolia many visitors hope to find. This is a city of smog and snarled traffic, of 50 Cent blasting from a screen opposite the State Department Store; a place where a Versace outlet encroaches on the square where Lenin's statue stood until last October, when it was hoisted away and auctioned off.

This is the Ulan Bator that Jan Wigsten, the Swedish founder of the tour company Nomadic Journeys, means when he speaks of a capital in the "overdrive of transition." Mr. Wigsten has been going to Mongolia for more than 30 years. He has seen building entrances shift from courtyards that featured playgrounds and gardens ("that Communist idea of communal use") to doors that open directly onto the street. He has seen the swarms of street kids that once suffused the city with a sense of desperation, and the way economic expansion swept the streets clean of them. "It's like being in the '50s," he said of the economic boom and all its social implications.

Indeed, the Ulan Bator I first stepped out into did seem like a city at the beginning of a prosperous decade: avenues clogged with more cars than they could handle, people hurrying to work, restaurants with signs advertising fast food. But the signs weren't advertising burgers and fries; instead, chains like Khaan Buuz and Mongol Khuushur dish up buuz (steamed mutton dumplings) and khuushuur (the same, deep fried). I drank suutei tsai — salty milk tea with a sheen of fat — and ate with my hands until my fingers glistened. This seemed the quickest way to get close to the culture, at least until I could get out into the rural Mongolia I'd come for.

The second Ulan Bator is the city I could only appreciate weeks later, after days of hitching my way across the central steppe, nights camping in a storm-battered tent, and another stretch riding a half-wild horse through the mountains that border Siberia. And then there were the endless meals of gristly mutton eaten around smoky stoves inside herders' gers, the unceasing cups of greasy tea.

But, upon my return to Ulan Bator, I discovered a variety of cosmopolitan cuisines uniquely fitting to a culture created by conquering — and uniting — so many disparate corners of the world.

My culinary journey began in the Sansar neighborhood, behind the wrestling stadium, at an incongruously tranquil restaurant, Hazara, named for the north Indian tribe that, in the 13th century, followed Genghis Khan's army back to the Mongolian Steppe. After weeks of bland Mongolian food, I nearly swooned at the mammoth leg of cardomom-scented lamb marinated in rum and baked in a tandoori oven, served alongside baingan bharta (mashed eggplant, tomatoes and onions spiced with chiles and coriander), then sank into a satisfied stupor amid the larch logs and curtains that make each table its own secluded hideaway.

Another outstanding eating experience awaited me at Urlag, tucked inside the Culture Palace. Urlag is not just a Korean restaurant, but a North Korean one. Despite the novelty of an opera honoring "Dear Leader" looped on the TV, it was the food that surprised me: a cold dish of glassy buckwheat noodles set afire with a kimchi sauce, and roast duck so delicious it brought me back the next night.

At Naran Tuul, the bustling market east of the city, where furriers hawk hats that dangle fox paws, and smartphones are sold alongside horse tack, I stopped by a tsainy gazar, or teahouse. There I found a plate of tsuban (noodles and mutton) accompanied by shreds of honest-to-God carrots, not to mention coleslaw and potato salad and fresh steamed mantuu buns.

Food wasn't the only thing I came to appreciate in Ulan Bator. Though traveling through the steppe had imbued me with admiration for those who live there, mostly nomadic herders of horses, sheep, goats and yaks, it was in Ulan Bator that I encountered the history that gives them such fortitude. A metropolis established just over 200 years ago as a nomadic encampment called the City of Felt, Ulan Bator isn't much for ancient architecture. And in a country purged by Soviets of monks and monasteries, the unremarkable Buddhist monasteries of Choijin Lama and Gandan Khiid are likely to disappoint.

But the core of this country's past is in the centuries before the capital existed, and that history comes most powerfully to life in the National Museum of Mongolian History. Here in a concrete building west of Sukhbaatar Square, quotes from the nation's founder line the walls. Walking among armor and trumpets made from human bones, I could almost hear Genghis Khan's voice: "Listen, my sons, my life was too short to achieve the conquest of the world. That task is for you."

Today, Mongolia is 15 times smaller than at the empire's peak, but still far too large to explore in the month I had there. So it was in the little-visited halls of the locked-up Wildlife Museum that I came closest to comprehending the country's vast natural world. Once I'd found the key-keeper, and he'd lighted the dusty taxidermy displays — from wolves caught midsnarl to ram skulls sprouting huge horns — the realization hit me: how wondrous an array of animals, and how precious the dwindling wildlife that's left.

Which is just another reason to see this country now. Although the Ministry of Nature Environment and Tourism has set aside almost 15 percent of the land in protected areas like Mongol Daguur and Khustain National Park, the mining boom continues to rip away grassland from the gazelles that graze in the east, dig in to the desert home of rare wild camels and Gobi bears, and eat away at the habitat of reindeer, wolves and the last snow leopards in the northern mountains.

If Mongolia guards its natural treasures as well as it does its cultural ones (including the 17th-century Buddhist figures and self-portraits of its greatest artist, Zanabazar, in the Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts; and the Mongolian National Song and Dance Ensemble's air-rattling throat singing and contortionist performances),  it will only grow more popular. And Ulan Bator will become an increasingly welcome reprieve from the rigors of the wilds.

Near the end of my visit, I walked west from the square, seeking the Center of Shaman Eternal Heavenly Sophistication. I found a pair of dusty gers enclosed by a chain-linked fence. Planted in the dirt in front of them were spirit banners — the tails of horses once owned by the dead, strung now to spear tips. The gate was locked, the center closed. So I kept walking, toward the hills, into the tumble of ger slums at the city's edge. Soon I found myself inside a sprawling cemetery; Ulan Bator's skyline glinted in the distance. There, among the new high-rises, the grandest of them gleamed: the Blue Sky, a 200-room luxury hotel. With its 25 stories of blue glass, the building and its name recall the central image in Mongolian spiritualism, the Eternal Blue Sky. Throughout the country I'd seen blue ribbons marking sacred places, tied to ancient trees at mountain passes and on the headstones scattered around me now.

The next day, I would watch the Grand National Orchestra — with its carved horse-head violins and cow-horn winds — play a rousing rendition of "We Are the Champions." But it was that afternoon, standing among the wildflowers and the shards of vodka bottles that glittered among them, that I understood how the windswept plains behind me and the modern city rising before me were equal parts of the country's character, inseparable from the history that binds them both.

IF YOU GO

No visa is required for American citizens for a visit of up to 90 days.

WHERE TO STAY

Nassan's Guesthouse (Baga Toiruu Street West, building A4; nassantours.com): Perhaps the most helpful guesthouse manager in Ulan Bator, matched by the clean rooms and hot showers. Dorm rooms: $7 a person, per night; $30 for a whole room, which sleeps four or more. The guesthouse and Blue Sky, below, give prices in U.S. dollars.

The Blue Sky Hotel and Tower (Peace Avenue. 17; blueskytower.mn): Ulan Bator's premiere luxury hotel, near Sukhbaatar Square, with a health club, nightclub, restaurants and an unbeatable view from the open-air lounge ($192 to $3,000).

WHERE TO EAT

Urlag (Amaryn Gudamj Street, inside the Culture Palace; 976-9907-9894; facebook.com/urlagrestaurant): North Korean restaurant with patriotic operas on television and sublime dishes on the plates. (Main courses, 9,000 Mongolian tugrik, $6.35 at 1,420 tugrik to the dollar.)

Hazara (Peace Avenue 16, behind the Wrestling Palace; 976-9919-5007): An elegant atmosphere matched by attentive service and sophisticated and unusual Indian cuisine —  in unexpectedly large portions. (Main dishes, about 11,000 to 25,000 tugrik; wines, 13,000 to 91,000 tugrik.)

Gobi Cave (Amarsanaa Street, west side, north of Damdinbazar Street; 976-1136-1520; facebook.com/gobicave): With over-the-top cavern-themed d├ęcor, this Turkish restaurant is unlike any other place in Ulan Bator, and maybe anywhere. Fun to sit in, and good food, too. (Main courses, 7,000 tugrik.)

Tsainy Gazar No. 2 (Naran Tuul Market, metal hangar, back entrance): A great place to try traditional Mongolian food. Clean with quick service and more complexity (and vegetables) than usual. (Lunch plates for 3,000 tugrik.)

WHERE TO DRINK

Budweiser Bar (Sukhbaataryn Gudamj Street, northwest corner of Sukhbaatar Square): Good Czech beer and great views of the city's main square.

The Cherry Lounge (Tokyogiin Gudamj Street, west side, north of the Wrestling Palace): Once named the Sexy Jazz Lounge, it still has the vibe — cozy with low lighting and red walls hung with black-and-white photos of jazz greats.

Link to article

 

Rare Przewalski wild horse gave birth thanks to artificial insemination for first time ever

Breakthrough for the survival of the species

August 1 (TreeHugger) The Przewalski's horse, aka the Dzungarian horse, is a rare and endangered wild horse native to the steppes of China and Mongolia. It was once extinct in the wild, but it has been reintroduced to its habitat, though in limited numbers. That's why it's such great news that a female foal was born at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute after a 340-day pregnancy. It's the first time that a Przewalski's horse is born thanks to artificial insemination, a success that represents a huge breakthrough for the survival of this species.

"It seems reasonable to assume that reproduction for the Przewalski's horse would be similar to domestic horses, but it simply isn't the case," said SCBI reproductive physiologist Budhan Pukazhenthi. "After all these years of persevering, I can honestly say I was elated to receive the call informing me that the foal had been born. I couldn't wait to see her! This is a major accomplishment, and we hope our success will stimulate more interest in studying and conserving endangered equids around the world."

It took seven years to perfect the technique that led to this birth!

The Smithsonian writes:

The usefulness of artificial insemination is that it does not require both animals to be together for a successful mating. The transport of animals to different locations can be difficult, dangerous, costly and potentially stressful to the individual. By contrast, the collection of semen can be safely accomplished under the supervision of veterinary staff and significantly improves the efficiency of managing small populations of endangered species. The birth of Anne and Agi's filly required hormonal treatments for inducing ovulation in a mare, specialized animal-handling facilities, conditioning Anne to provide urine samples for hormone monitoring and routine ultrasounds. This accomplishment validates the importance of integrating animal management in the research and development of assisted reproductive technologies for endangered species.

Using ultrasound technology, Pukazhenthi confirmed the pregnancy about 35 days after the insemination. The mare's pregnancy was monitored closely for 11 months measuring urinary hormone levels and visual keys (such as her growing belly).

Link to article

 

Ray Zahab to assist Gobi Bear preservation

August 2 (UB Post) Canadian citizen, Ray Zahab, has travelled 2,100 kilometers from Buir Lake in Dornod Province to Shivee Khuren Port of Umnugovi Province on foot in 35 days, running an average of 70 kms a day.  He's crossed the Sahara Desert, the South Pole and various other places with intriguing natural formations before, but he says it was so interesting to discover that Mongolia's virgin nature has been preserved until now and that endangered species like the Gobi Bear, endemic to Mongolia, still inhabit the Gobi.

At a press conference held on July 31, Zahab announced that he will assist Gobi Bear (Mazaalai) preservation efforts as part of his nature conservation project, as there are only 22 to 30 Gobi Bears left in the world. He will cooperate with the Mongolian Ministry of Nature, Environment and Green Development (MNEGD) on the project.

During his travels across the globe, Zahab focuses on drawing the world's attention to endangered species on the verge of extinction.

Former Minister of MNEGD, D.Tsogtbaatar, attended the press conference and said, "Taking financial backing from global environmental organizations is a very important step to preserve the Gobi Bear species. Ray Zahab has been contributing to nature protection projects worldwide and is a experienced person in bringing world attention to vital environmental issues. It is a remarkable incident that he visited Mongolia and decided to assist Gobi Bear preservation projects."

When D.Tsogbaatar was serving as minister, Ray Zahab was a member of the minister's advisory council.

Link to article

 

Cashmere Fashions Squeezing Central Asia's Big Mammals

Growing demand for cashmere affects mammals, like snow leopards, a world away.

The global craving for cashmere is creating an unlikely group of "fashion victims"—snow leopards living half a world away from chic shops doing a brisk business in stylish sweaters and other garments.

August 3 (National Geographic) A new study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Snow Leopard Trust suggests that the booming trade in cashmere is causing Central Asia's goat herders to expand their stock in search of increased profits.

This creates a welcome economic boost, but an array of rare or endangered species like snow leopards, Bactrian camels, and Tibetan antelope are paying the price. Wild habitat is shrinking dramatically, and the animals are increasingly coming into conflict with humans and their livestock. (Related: "Snow Leopards Need To Be Protected ... But How?")

Ninety percent of the world's cashmere comes from the goat herds roaming the open spaces of China and Mongolia. And those herds are growing to meet demand. According to the study, Mongolia's herds alone have surged from five million in 1990 to almost 14 million by 2010.

"Herders want to have good lives. They like to make money just like the rest of us do," said study co-author Joel Berger, of the WCS and the University of Montana. "Anybody in their shoes would be thinking the same way," he added. "So we're going to have to work with them and with the garment industry to think this through and try to find a better way."

Food Fight

When goat herds devour local plants, many native herbivores are left without their own sources of food, said study co-author Charudutt Mishra of the Snow Leopard Trust. "The number of snow leopards that an area can support goes down as the wild ungulate populations decline. [Then] a greater proportion of the snow leopard's dietary needs are met by preying on livestock, which results in local communities killing them in retaliation." (See pictures of snow leopards in Afghanistan.)

Eventually, Mishra said, growing herds of grazers could degrade the rangeland to such an extent that even the numbers of cashmere-producing goats it can support will decline.

Some of the species currently being impacted are iconic to the region but have little wiggle room. Only about 6,000 snow leopards remain in the wild. Bactrian camels, the world's only remaining wild camel species, likely number less than a thousand individuals.

The critically endangered saiga antelope has been hunted so extensively in Kazakhstan during the past two decades that its population has plunged more than 95 percent. It has been a victim of demand for its horns, which are used in traditional Chinese medicines; however, a recent report by the Kazak government has reported a rebound.

Wild yaks, gazelles, and many other rare and endangered species are also being affected, according the study published in the August issue of the journal Conservation Biology.

This isn't the first time the demands of fashion have pushed animals to the brink or beyond.

During the late 19th century, decorative bird feathers began to adorn the hats or dresses of fashionable ladies. By 1918 the trade in wild bird plumes had decimated dozens of American species like the snowy egret. The U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act, passed in 1918, curbed the practice and later allowed some species to recover.

In cashmere's case, fashion's impact on wildlife is indirect and far less obvious. "Most people have no idea where their cashmere even comes from," Berger said.

"This wasn't something I thought of and then went to study," he said. "I was studying saiga. I was studying yaks. And it started to become clear that these and other species had something in common—they were all being displaced from their primary habitats and coming into more conflicts with humans."

Green Cashmere?

WCS and the Snow Leopard Trust hope to find solutions by working with the local people, the fashion industry, and Western cashmere consumers who drive demand to strike a sustainable balance that might work for all. "There aren't any bad guys in this," Berger said, "It's just the way the system is built."

The next step is to gather a group of eco-conscious people from the fashion industry to talk about this, he said. "Nobody wants to see massive changes to people's livelihood."

Promoting economic diversification could help, said Mishra, of the Snow Leopard Trust. Research by his team shows that people and communities with multiple sources of income tend to be more tolerant of predators like wolves and snow leopards. (Watch snow leopards being tagged in Afghanistan.)

They've also found that women tend to have more negative attitudes toward the predators. "It is critical that some of the programs pertaining to livelihood generation are specifically designed for women," he said. "The Snow Leopard Enterprises program of the Snow Leopard Trust is one such example of working with women for snow leopard conservation and, through them, with the entire community."

Mishra also believes that a system of sustainable, wildlife-friendly cashmere could be a key way fashionistas can have their cashmere and protect wildlife while herders continue to profit.

"Such a program must financially reward farmer communities who provide grazing space for wild ungulates by adjusting livestock density, and who are willing and able to coexist with snow leopards and wolves without persecuting them," he said.

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