Tuesday, March 18, 2014

[Rio warns of further writedown, MGG announces investor roadshow, and Minister Bold on Aussie mission]

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

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Overseas Market

TRQ closed +0.88% to US$3.45 Monday

Rio Tinto warns of US$800m further write-down with more delays at Oyu Tolgoi

March 18 (The Australian) RIO Tinto has warned it faces an $US800 million ($883m) write-down of the Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold project in Mongolia this year if it can't start an expansion held up by a dispute with the government.

The big miner also revealed that most of a $US4.72 billion pre-tax writedown on the project announced in last month's 2013 earnings report was due to delays starting the stalled underground mine expansion, which is where most of the value at Oyu Tolgoi sits.

Rio chief Sam Walsh warned last month that further delays to the project could occur if agreement with the Mongolian government, which has a 34 per cent stake in Oyu Tolgoi, was not reached by the end of this month, when project finance commitments expire.

In Rio's annual report, released late on Friday, the miner laid out the potential balance sheet repercussions of what is likely to be a missed project finance deadline.

"If this (underground development) is further delayed, it would have an adverse impact on the recoverable amount (from any sale of Oyu Tolgoi) due to the delay in commencing full production," Rio said. "A further 12-month delay in the timing of cashflows related to the underground would decrease fair value less costs of disposal by $US800m."

The annual report also said a 2013 pre-tax impairment of $US1.15bn of Oyu Tolgoi goodwill and $US3.57bn of the project's plant, property and equipment were primarily a result of the delay to the underground. Rio and its subsidiary Turquoise Hill Resources have stalled development of the expansion until they settle what they are calling "shareholder issues" with the government.

The dispute is over benefits the government will receive from the project and compensation around cost overruns at the recently started open pit operations.

Turquoise Hill revealed last month that access to water in the Gobi desert, where Oyu Tolgoi is located, also had become an issue.

Last week Mr Walsh said Rio would not be rushed into agreement by the looming deadline.

"We've learnt that when you build a mine you need to get things right upfront because you are going to have to live with it for a long time," Mr Walsh said.

"It would be nice to bring the discussions with the government of Mongolia to a conclusion but I'm not going to speculate whether the government is ready to bring that to a conclusion."

The mining boss said the discussions were amicable and focused on long-term issues.

"We're not about rushing this to meet a deadline, we're about meaningful discussions that bring about a satisfactory resolution," Mr Walsh said.

Link to article

Link to RIO Annual Report release


YAK closed -2.76% to C$2.47 Monday

Mongolia Growth Group Ltd. Newly Appointed CEO Announces Multi-City Roadshow

Thunder Bay, Ontario, Monday, March 17, 2014 (FSCwire) - Mongolia Growth Group Ltd. ("MGG") or ("the Company") is pleased to announce that Executive Chairman Harris Kupperman and newly appointed CEO, Paul Byrne, will be heading a multi-city road show to introduce Mr. Byrne to shareholders and potential investors. 

As part of this road show, MGG will host the following presentations for all interested parties; 

New York City 

Monday March 31st at 5:30 PM at the TKP New York Conference Center in the East Village Room, 109 West 39th Street, New York City 

For more information on TKP New York Conference Center, visit

Los Angeles 

Monday April 7th at 5:30 PM at the Sheraton Los Angeles Downtown in the California Room, 711 South Hope Street, Los Angeles 

For more information on the Sheraton Los Angeles Downtown Hotel, visit  


Thursday April 10th at 5:30 PM at the Crowne Plaza Magnificent Mile Hotel, 160 East Huron Street, Chicago 

For more information on the Crowne Plaza Magnificent Mile Hotel, visit  


Tuesday April 15th at 5:30 PM at the King Edward Hotel, 37 King Street East, Toronto 

For more information on the King Edward Hotel, visit  

If you wish to attend one of the presentations, please email Christy LeCuyer at and note which presentation you will be attending.

For more information about Mongolia Growth Group, please visit the Company's website at

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Local Market

MSE Weekly Review, March 10-14: Top 20 +0.91%, Turnover 104 Million

Ulaanbaatar, March 17 (MONTSAME) Five stock trades were held at Mongolia's Stock Exchange March 10-14, 2014.

In overall, 165 thousand and 164 shares were sold of 53 joint-stock companies totaling MNT 104 million 004 thousand and 570.65.

"Remikon" /74 thousand and 920 units/, "Hai Bi Oil" /23 thousand and 250 units/, "Genco tour bureau" /17 thousand and 698 units/, "Khokh gan" /16 thousand and 679 units/ and "Ariljaa impex" /7,827 units/ were the most actively traded in terms of trading volume, in terms of trading value--"Gobi" (MNT 14 million 578 thousand and 175), "Remikon" (MNT 11 million 465 thousand and 454), "Makh impex" /MNT nine million 530 thousand and 518/, "Hai Bi Oil" /MNT eight million 081 thousand and 200.00/ and "Gan khiits" (MNT six million 307 thousand).

Link to article

Link to MSE Weekly Trading Report


MSE News for March 17: Top 20 -0.02%, Turnover 21.9 Million

Ulaanbaatar, March 17 (MONTSAME) At the Stock Exchange trades held Monday, a total of 46 thousand and 036 shares of 27 JSCs were traded costing MNT 21 million 919 thousand and 539.30.

"Olloo" /18 thousand and 272 units/, "Genco tour bureau" /8,000 units/, "State Department Store" /6,012 units/, "Hai Bi Oil" /5,670 units/ and "Mongol savkhi" /1,042 units/ were the most actively traded in terms of trading volume, in terms of trading value--"State Department Store" (MNT three million 598 thousand and 600), "Material impex" (MNT two million 740 thousand and 500), "Tavantolgoi" (MNT two million 458 thousand and 155), "Olloo" (MNT two million 338 thousand and 316) and "Gobi" (MNT two million 032 thousand and 535).

The total market capitalization was set at MNT one trillion 674 billion 201 million 406 thousand and 081. The Index of Top-20 JSCs was 16,724.00, decreasing by MNT 3.73 or 0.02% against the previous day.

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BoM MNT Rates: March 17 Close





































March MNT Chart:


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BoM issues 153.5 billion 1-week bills, total outstanding -9.04% to 679.1 billion

March 17 (Bank of Mongolia) BoM issues 1 week bills worth MNT 153.5 billion at a weighted interest rate of 10.5 percent per annum /For previous auctions click here/

Link to release


BoM Monthly Statistical Bulletin, February 2014

March 17 (Bank of Mongolia) --

Link to report


Consolidated Balance Sheet of Commercial Banks, February 2014

March 17 (Bank of Mongolia) --

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Mongolia to establish leather processing factory

Ulaanbaatar, March 17 (MONTSAME) A leather and skin processing factory will be established in Mongolia in accordance with the cabinet decision made Friday.

The Minister of Industry and Agriculture Kh.Battulga was ordered to launch infrastructure works for the factory after running a tender, and to introduce it to the cabinet.

- The cabinet backed a draft governmental resolution on adopting a development programme for police organization.

- The Secretary-General of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Mr D.F.Mezentsev will visit Mongolia March 23-25. The cabinet discussed draft directives to be maintained by the Mongolian side during his visit, and decided to have the PM approved it.

- The Deputy Premier D.Terbishdagva introduced to the cabinet a course of tenders on realizing projects and measures for this year by the Procurement Department. 

Link to article


Cabinet Approves Report on Trade Policy of Mongolia for WTO Submission

Ulaanbaatar, March 17 (MONTSAME) The Cabinet meeting last Friday approved a report on trade policies of the Government.

It was developed by the Ministry of Economic Development, based on policy changes and statistics of key economic sectors of the nation since 2005.

The report will be submitted to the World Trade Organization (WTO), Mongolia joined in 1997. As a member-country, Mongolia got reviewed its trade policies by WTO in 2005 for the first time.

The Economic Development Minister N.Batbayar is expected to attend the review and discussion of the report of the trade policies of Mongolia at WTO.

WTO is an organization that supervises and liberalizes international trade. It has 159 members and 25 observer governments.

Link to article


Speaker meets Mongolians in South Korea

March 17 ( There are over 7000 illegal migrant workers in South Korea from Mongolia.

The Speaker of Mongolian Parliament, Z.Enkhbold, visited Busan in South Korea on the second day of his official visit to the country March 14th, and conducted a meeting with representatives of over 6000 Mongolians who reside in the country.

According to statistics approximately 26 thousand Mongolians reside in South Korea. Of these, 7785 are illegal migrant workers. The statistics measure that there are a decreasing number of illegal workers from Mongolia to South Korea year on year.

At the beginning of the meeting, Speaker Z.Enkhbold pointed out that "South Korea is one of the closest partners to Mongolia in the region. The Ministry of Labor and Ministry of Population Development and Social Protection work in Mongolia to protect the rights of Mongolians who live and work in foreign countries. 

"The Embassy of Korea (Republic) in Mongolia requires Financial Verification of more than 7 to 14 million MNT to apply for a visa to South Korea. During the visit to the country this issue was raised and discussed between South Korean government officials."

Speaker Z.Enkhbold also remarked that there are incidents where Mongolians commit crimes in Korea. The Speaker reminded Mongolians to follow the laws and rules in the country they are residing in.

Then the Speaker called for Mongolians who reside in Korea to head back to Mongolia to make efforts for future reconstruction by creating industries and contributing to making export products replace imported products. Speaker Z.Enkhbold said that Parliament intends to make a policy to exempt from taxes the facilities and machinery of citizens who would undertake reconstruction. 

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Ulan Bator seeks Aussie funds for resources industry

March 18 (The Australian) THE Australian resources sector is the main target of a more investor-friendly redraft of Mongolia's foreign investment rules, says Mongolian Foreign Minister Bold Luvsanvandan.

Mr Luvsanvandan, who will sign a consular memorandum of understanding with his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop tonight, said Mongolia expected to grow at an annual rate of more than 15 per cent for the next decade.

"Last year the growth rate was a little lower at 12.5 per cent but the year before it was 17.5 per cent," he said (Mogi: 2013 GDP grew 11.7%, CPI was 12.5%). "Our new model for foreign direct investment is very much designed for Australian businesses -- we're offering stability, openness and lower tax.

"We believe this should be the beginning of a boom for Australian investment in Mongolia, not just in resources but also in other areas like infrastructure, financial services and insurance."

Mr Luvsanvandan joined Bold Ravdan, Mongolia's ambassador to Australia, in launching the Australia Mongolia Business Council.

The chairman of the council is law firm Minter Ellison's international partner Mark Green, who set up the firm's office in Mongolia. It now employs 15 people including eight locals.

The council's mission is to facilitate business and bilateral trade between the two countries.

While 170 Australian companies are already doing business in the central Asian country, two-way trade is starting from a small annual base of about $50 million.

Mr Luvsanvandan's message that Mongolia is open for business comes amid sensitive talks with Rio Tinto on the delayed stage two development of the huge Oyu Tolgoi copper-gold mine. Rio has majority control of Oyu Tolgoi, arguably its most important growth project, through a 50.8 per cent stake in Canadian group Turquoise Hill Resources, which owns 66 per cent of the project.

Other Australian companies to show interest in Mongolia include Leighton Holdings and explorer Xanadu Mines. ANZ Bank said in 2012 it would open a representative office in Ulan Bator as part of a long-term strategy to play a bigger role in financing the country's resources industry.

Mr Green said Australian mining services companies were becoming increasingly active there.

"Many of the Australian companies have slightly different operational tasks in that they have to maintain and operate their own roads, so the mining services companies are enjoying it," he said.

Mongolia, he said, was drawing on best practice from offshore to build its legal infrastructure.

"So Australia's corporate law is starting to be used as the model for Mongolian corporate law; tax is pretty much a New Zealand system," he said.

"Promulgation of laws is pretty quick because there's only one level of parliament."

Link to article


Aussie juniors jump at chance in Mongolia

March 18 (The Australian) MONGOLIA -- a landlocked country in central Asia -- boomed as the resources cycle peaked but just as quickly as the investment flooded in, it flowed out as the government radically changed the rules.

Now, after years of largely being ignored by foreign investors, the country is trying to win favour with the global resources sector with another change of its rules -- but this time in a move to say it is open for business.

David Paull, who heads junior Aspire Mining, has witnessed the rise and fall of Mongolia's appeal in the competitive global resources space.

Having penned an exploration deal in the country in October 2009, just weeks before a government agreement for the massive Oyu Tolgoi project was signed, Paull has been front row for the roller-coaster ride.

"It was a very hot environment, then it got extremely cold from mid-2012 onwards and that coincided with the fading of the global commodities boom," he says. "The outcome of that was a sharp drop in foreign direct investment in the country of about half. We worry in Australia about investment numbers coming off and what is going to fill the void, but it is nothing of the magnitude of a relatively small economy, which is what we have seen in the last couple of years in Mongolia."

The dramatic change in investment came when the government changed the investment rules in mid-2012, a directive it is now trying to reverse in an attempt to compete with the limited global capital available to fund new developments.

In its efforts to capture the attention of foreign investors, Mongolia's government has tasked senior ministers with spreading the message.

Foreign Minister Bold Luvsanvandan will visit Sydney on Thursday to explain the new laws and system, and sell the story to Australia's miners and investment community.

"They (Mongolia) understand the global market is competitive. The response is a clear indication that as a country and new democracy Mongolia has definitely put its cap in the foreign direct investment basket," Paull says.

China and Russia already invest heavily in Mongolia, but it is what the country refers to as its "third neighbour" that it is now actively targeting, which includes Australia, Japan, Korea, Canada and the US.

A positive signal on talks with mining giant Rio Tinto over the development of stage two of the Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine is another indicator the sector is waiting before advancements are made to enter the country. Rio has majority control of Oyu Tolgoi through its 50.8 per cent stake in Canadian company Turquoise Hill Resources, which in turn owns 66 per cent of Oyu Tolgoi.

The Mongolian government owns the remaining 34 per cent of the project, which is expected to contribute 30 per cent of Mongolia's GDP when it reaches full production.

There has been a stand-off between the companies and the Mongolian government on an investment agreement covering the $US6 billion ($6.6bn) underground development, and work on stage two stopped in August.

Plans to lay off 1700 workers were also announced after the government said any provisional financing for the project would have to be approved by Mongolia's parliament.

Paull says that when he is talking to potential investors about his Mongolian coal project there is significant interest, but one of the first comments he receives is on Oyu Tolgoi.

"They tell me they can't take it to their investment committees until the Oyu Tolgoi government situation is resolved. Because until it is resolved there is this overhang uncertainty about the most important project in the country and they need to see that dealt with, which I can understand."

Stage two of Oyu Tolgoi is the world's largest project funding exercise in terms of numbers, with about 14 banks involved in the syndicate, Paull says, and for most of them it is their first investment in Mongolia.

Once the all-clear is given and the project goes ahead it will be a catalyst to look at the next project in Mongolia that they can support.

Having returned from Mongolia recently, Paull says the word on the ground is the parties are close to signing off on stage two of Oyu Tolgoi.

Another catalyst to kickstart investment in the country again is when a moratorium on new exploration licences is lifted.

"The government issued a new minerals policy document this year, which was supportive of foreign investment and the moderation of state involvement," Paull says.

Changes to the minerals law, to ensure it is consistent with the new investment laws, could be introduced as early as the spring sessions of parliament, which starts on March 24.

"That opens up ground for pegging, which will drive junior explorers to have another look at Mongolia," he says.

One Australian-listed junior that sees itself as an early mover is Viking Ashanti. The company, once focused on gold, is merging with another junior, Auminco, to earn exposure to coal assets in Mongolia. Its chief, Peter McMickan, who also recently returned from Mongolia, thinks the country wants to reinvigorate foreign investment, and resources is the "big game in town".

"It has gone through an interesting cycle. In 2007 to 2011 it was the place to be and it was overheated, then in 2011 the government changed its foreign investment rules, which just about overnight killed the industry.

"A lot of companies left or ceased spending money."

McMickan says the Mongolians could clearly see the impact of that change to the foreign investment rules.

"It has gone through a high, through a low and we see it at the bottom of the trough and the opportunity for it to start picking up again," he says. "That is the point that we think is opportunistic for us to come in and look at good-quality projects with realistic costs attached to them, and try and pick up on that new interest in reinvigorating the economy in Mongolia."

McMickan says Mongolia now has an interesting combination of factors at play -- a country that is well endowed with resources, an educated population, an economy that is growing and a new, concerted effort to attract foreign investment. "We are one of the early entrants into this new cycle of potential opportunity," he says.

"We see that as an advantage to come in, and in our case look at developing projects that have modest capital demands."

While there are opportunities to acquire projects in Mongolia, McMickan says there is not the breadth and depth there of the explorers and developers at the junior end of the market seen in a more developed resources sector like Australia.

"But the government is hoping the changes in the regulation and the attractive playing field will encourage companies to come back into Mongolia, particularly the junior companies," he says.

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Ho Chi Minh City fosters ties with Mongolian capital

March 17 (VietNamNet) Chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee Le Hoang Quan has stated that the metropolis will try its best to foster ties with the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar.

Meeting the visiting Chairman of the Ulaanbaatar City Council Dashjamts Battulga on March 14, Quan said he hopes the two cities will create all possible conditions for each other to share their experience and boost cooperation in areas that interest both sides.

He reiterated that this year, Vietnam and Mongolia will celebrate their 60th anniversary of their diplomatic ties.

Over the past six decades, the two countries have shared a sound relationship, he said, stressing that this is a firm foundation for them to further improve their cooperation in various fields, including economics, trade and education and training.

For his part, Battulga said he is impressed at the strong development of Ho Chi Minh City over the recent past.

He said his visit aims to further bolster ties between the two cities, especially in urban planning and education.

As the potential of economic and trade cooperation between Ulaanbaatar and Ho Chi Minh City are abundant, the two sides should organise more business forums to create opportunities for enterprises to enhance their connectivity, he suggested.

Battulga also promised that his city will spare no effort to hold suitable activities celebrating the upcoming 60th anniversary.

Ulaanbaatar will organise a number of cultural exchanges so that people in the two cities can deepen their mutual understanding, he added.

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Speaker's official visit to South Korea ends

March 17 ( Speaker of Mongolian Parliament Z.Enkhbold paid an official visit to the Republic of Korea on the invitation of the Speaker of South Korea`s National Assembly, Kang Chang-hee, between March 12th and 15th.

During the visit to Korea, Speaker Z.Enkhbold met his counterpart, Speaker Kang Chang-hee, to discuss issues of comprehensive partnerships between Mongolia and South Korea based on the advantages of Mongolia`s rich natural resource and South Korea`s strengths in human resources for further improve cooperation. The parties also discussed visa issues that are found by Mongolian travelers to Korea, at an individual meeting.

On March 14th South Korea"s President Park Gyeun-hye received Speaker Z.Enkhbold. South Korea"s President Park Gyeun-hye emphasized the significance of the official visit by Speaker Z.Enkhbold for bilateral relations between the two countries and said that she is glad about the close bilateral cooperation between Mongolia and the Republic of Korea. Speaker Z.Enkhbold expressed gratitude to President Park Gyeun-hye for welcoming him and delivered President Ts.Elbegdorj's greetings. President Park Gyeun-hye and Speaker Z.Enkhbold had talks about the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Mongolia and the Republic of Korea that is to be marked next year, and about the extension of bilateral relations at all levels and visa issues.

During the visit to Korea, the Speaker visited the Busan-Jinhae Free Economic Zone to see the high technology cluster practices and the Korea Institute of Science and Technology to see its daily activities.

On the second day of the visit the Speaker attended the Mongolian-Korean Business Forum that is designed to boost bilateral economy and business cooperation between Mongolia and Korea. At the business forum, business representatives from the two sides exchanged opinions, discussed ways to expand business cooperation, protect the rights of business partners, and introduce Korea`s high technology to Mongolia. During the forum Mongolia`s Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi LLC and South Korea`s "Dailin Corporation" signed a cooperation memorandum.

On the third day, Speaker Z.Enkhbold visited Busan to meet representatives of over 6000 Mongolians who reside in Korea.

On the official visit to Republic of Korea, the Speaker was accompanied by government officials including cabinet ministers, the Head of the Standing Committee on Complaints Resolution R.Burmaa, the Minister of Labor Ya.Sanjmyatav, the Minister of Population Development and Social Protection S.Erdene and MPs O.Baasankhuu, G.Batkhuu, D.Sarangerel and Ts.Tsolmon as well as the Ambassador from Mongolia to the Republic of Korea B.Ganbold, and other government agencies officials and media groups.

Link to article


Speaker calls on Mongolians in Korea to repatriate experience home  

March 17 ( There are over 7000 illegal migrant workers in South Korea from Mongolia.

The Speaker of Mongolian Parliament, Z.Enkhbold, visited Busan in South Korea on the second day of his official visit to the country March 14th, and conducted a meeting with representatives of over 6000 Mongolians who reside in the country.

According to statistics approximately 26 thousand Mongolians reside in South Korea. Of these, 7785 are illegal migrant workers. The statistics measure that there are a decreasing number of illegal workers from Mongolia to South Korea year on year.

At the beginning of the meeting, Speaker Z.Enkhbold pointed out that "South Korea is one of the closest partners to Mongolia in the region. The Ministry of Labor and Ministry of Population Development and Social Protection work in Mongolia to protect the rights of Mongolians who live and work in foreign countries. 

"The Embassy of Korea (Republic) in Mongolia requires Financial Verification of more than 7 to 14 million MNT to apply for a visa to South Korea. During the visit to the country this issue was raised and discussed between South Korean government officials."

Speaker Z.Enkhbold also remarked that there are incidents where Mongolians commit crimes in Korea. The Speaker reminded Mongolians to follow the laws and rules in the country they are residing in.

Then the Speaker called for Mongolians who reside in Korea to head back to Mongolia to make efforts for future reconstruction by creating industries and contributing to making export products replace imported products. Speaker Z.Enkhbold said that Parliament intends to make a policy to exempt from taxes the facilities and machinery of citizens who would undertake reconstruction. 

Link to article


Parents of Japanese woman abducted by North Korea meet their granddaughter for first time

Kim Un Kyong meeting could help resume North Korea, Japan talks

TOKYO, March 17 (AP) — The parents of a Japanese woman abducted by North Korea in 1977 have met their Korean-born granddaughter for the first time.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry confirmed Sunday that Shigeru Yokota and his wife, Sakie, spent time with Kim Un Kyong over several days last week in Ulan Bator, Mongolia. Kim is 26 years old, Japanese media said.

The meeting could be a small step toward resuming official government talks between Japan and North Korea.

Kim's mother, Megumi Yokota, was kidnapped in Japan when she was 13. She is believed to have married a South Korean man, Kim Young-nam, who also was abducted by North Korea.

North Korea says Yokota has died, but Japan says North Korea has yet to provide definitive proof.

North Korea abducted at least 17 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s, according to Japan. Five were allowed to return in 2002.

Japan and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations, and have not had official talks since November 2012.

Link to article


Abductees' families surprised at meetingYomiuri Shimbun, March 17

Pyongyang seeks to break deadlockYomiuri Shimbun, March 17

U.N. investigator: N. Korea leaders should face prosecution at ICCThe Asahi Shimbun, March 18

Abe moved by Yokotas' meetingJiji Press, March 17


Vice Minister for Defense receives Alaska State Military Commissioner Major General Katkus

Ulaanbaatar, March 17 (MONTSAME) The Deputy Minister of Defense A.Battor Friday met Major General Thomas H. Katkus, a Commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs of the US Alaska State (Alaska DMVA).

The Vice Minister underlined that the Mongolia-USA relations and cooperation in the defense sector have been widening, and that the collaboration between the Mongolian Ministry and the Alaska DMVA plays a main role in these ties.

This visit of Major-General Katkus to Mongolia is an expression of the great importance attached to the  partnership and cooperation programme, established between Mongolia and Alaska State, said Mr Battor, adding that the parties should make the cooperation closer.

Thanking the Vice Minister for the audience, Major-General Katkus noted that servicemen of the Mongolian Armed Forces and Alaska State's National Guard are exchanging experiences. "Some of them have been promoted, reaching the decision-making positions, which means that good conditions have been created to deepen the cooperation," Katkus emphasized.

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Social, Environmental and Other

Beating the booze in Mongolia

After years of campaigns against excessive drinking, attitudes towards alcohol appear to be changing.           

March 17 (Al Jazeera) Widespread alcoholism led Mongolia's President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj to launch a campaign a few years ago, calling on his people to cut back on their drinking in the interest of national security.

At one point, the problem was so bad that more than half the population was drinking more than they should. But Mongolia is now on the verge of an economic boom - and it looks like things are changing.

Al Jazeera's Marga Ortigas reports from the capital Ulaanbaatar.

Link to video report


Disability Awareness Activist Uyanga Erdenebold, Ulaanbaatar Mongolia

By Nomindari Goulden, Founder,

March 17 (Huffington Post) Most of us know the difficulty of learning a foreign language. Now, imagine the triumph of learning a foreign language, blind. Uyanga Erdenebold, has not only done that, but is also the recipient of the first Fulbright Scholarship awarded to a blind Mongolian student. Uyanga completed a Masters Degree in library and information science from Louisiana State University in 2009 and currently works full-time for the U.S Embassy in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

At age four, Uyanga was diagnosed with retinoid dispegmentosa. At age eight, she could no longer see the blackboard or read print books. By college, she could not see her reflection in the mirror. Today, she is completely blind. She recalled that at age 14, she realized the true nature of her condition and in that moment, life became a race for her. She could not imagine life without being able to see, and thought that being blind would be the end of everything. However, in her own words, she "refused to be a prisoner of her disability." Albeit the lack of material resources available in Mongolia for visually impaired persons with ambition and hard work, she finished high school and continued to the University of Humanities of Mongolia. Uyanga successfully completed university in Mongolia without ever once having access to an audio format book.

Uyanga began English language studies at age 16 out of necessity, for she had finished reading all of the available Mongolian braille books and the only braille books left to read were donated English books. Her efforts have certainly paid off, as she is a fluent speaker today. In December 2013, she was a featured panelist at Tedx Ulaanbaatar Women. In that 15-minute speech inspired by personal experience, she spoke of the difficulties and challenges faced by persons with disabilities in Mongolia. Uyanga underlines the fact that it was not lack of material resources, but in fact, lack of awareness and understanding of persons with disabilities that continues to be the most difficult obstacle in her path. I encourage everyone to watch as her story is not only inspirational, but offers an opportunity to expand your understanding and perspectives regarding the lives of those with disabilities.

Following the Tedx event, I pursued a follow up personal interview with Uyanga, accompanied by Gladys, the first seeing-eye dog in Mongolia. The interview was held at the Natsajdorj Library in the city center of Ulaanbaatar.

Below are direct excerpts from the interview:

On being blind:

"I'm a blind person, but I don't feel bad about it. Obviously, I wish I could see, but it is a different way of experiencing life. Everywhere, all around the world, when it comes to minorities or people with disabilities, we think of us and them. However, it is not really us and them. We are the same. We are people, but we have different abilities".

Her experience as a blind person in Mongolia:

"In our culture, the prevailing attitude toward those with disabilities is pity. I guess it might be a natural instinct, but people need to get over that and see that person as an equal and appreciate that that person might have interesting things and perspectives to share. I think that attitude comes from seeing disabled people differently, as people who stay at home and are taken care of. The same way we think about pets. We love them, want them to be healthy, good, well fed, but we don't expect them to do anything contributing to your household. They are there to love, to spoil. In the best of conditions that is what it is like. As an intelligent or capable person, that is very frustrating to say the least."

"It makes me feel frustrated when for example people make me feel like a small child. I went to the University of Humanities, at first, everyone was very distant. Both teachers and students. And when I came to a pub, they would ask what kind of juice I wanted. So, that is what I am talking about. They were super friendly, with the best of intentions, but they see me as a different someone. A someone who needs to be treated lightly; who doesn't party, doesn't drink. Someone who doesn't even know about actors, singers or hot stars."

Shifting attitudes in Mongolia:

"But I think attitudes are starting to change. Lots of people are willing to listen and talk about what we can do. In the past couple of years, I am starting to see that we [as disabled persons] need to let people know what we need, otherwise, how would they [the public] know. Therefore, we need to do something ourselves instead of sitting and talk about how unfair it is. I guess this is part of the reason why I spoke at the Tedx event."

On Speaking Out:

In 2011, Uyanga was featured on a televised interview on the Defacto Talk Show. The interview now has over 20,000 views on YouTube.

"[Filmed during a hurried lunch break, Uyanga notes that as for the Defacto Show interview], the effect was almost immediate. The next day, many people knew about Gladys and the attitude had changed. So now, my attitude towards media has shifted. So instead, of feeling like a victim or complaining about it, I think I should give people a chance to learn about Gladys, or me, or issues that disabled people face."

On being in the spotlight:

"My personal attitude is to just live my life. I just want to be an individual. I am perfectly happy to be part of the crowd and live my life in my own way. However, I am facing so much difficulty just trying to do that. It has put me in a position where I have to be in the spotlight. I have to come out and speak, so I can let others know what 'I need' in order to live my life normally."

"This applies to many people who have similar disabilities or issues. During one conversation with some of my friends who are disabled, I told them I do not want to be a role model and someone who comes out and talks. My one friend responded "for somebody for you in Mongolia that is very selfish". After reflecting on her words, I had a change in my attitude. I cannot just think about my life. I had the opportunity to get higher education. I have the ability to speak English, which makes it possible to reach a larger audience."

"If I speak out about myself, my experiences, the difficulties I face, and what I think we could do together, that is going to affect many other people's lives. At least the smallest thing I could do is speak out to educate them. I am becoming more open to that."

On being an activist:

"If I don't want to speak out, if I don't want to talk about it , the choice I am left with or the only option I am left with is to be hidden or to let it be alright for people to treat me differently. That is not how I want to live my life."

"If I want to live a fulfilling life, if I want to be someone who is a contributing member of society, and if I want to feel satisfied about my life and goals, then I really do not have a choice but to speak out."

"Speaking out, coming under the spotlight, it can be scary and intimidating. You are putting your life out there on display. You are talking about your feelings, childhoods, difficulties you face... that is a compromise. For people who are disabled like me, it is a necessary compromise in order to make people understand."

"My dream is where we have a society where we don't have to make people pity or feel bad for you in order to accept you. It is a society where we don't have to talk about our personal stories in order to understand us. Where people take it is a given that people who are disabled are not inferior or lacking."

On personal aspirations:

"I started this organization where we receive injured puppies or dogs and try to find homes for them. It is not on a big scale, we ran out of money since most of it comes from my own pocket. It has been very successful this winter. One of my dreams is to establish proper an animal shelter for the homeless dogs of Ulaanbaatar. Dogs are one of my soft spots... Because I owe it to dogs."

"In addition, my dream is to establish a modern library in Ulaanbaatar. As you can see in UB, there are not many libraries that are convenient, or places where people want to stay and read. I want to have a very nice, friendly library, where children, disabled people, elderly are welcome to read their newspapers. I see it as a friendly, sunny place where people would feel comfortable, read books and be happy."

{End transcript}

Click here to view Uyanga's Tedx interview.

Click here to view Uyanga's Defacto Mongolian talk show interview.

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Michigan family with ties to Mongolia hosts Mongolian exchange student

HARDWOOD, MI, March 17 (Iron Mountain Daily News) - Mick and Heidi Reynolds of Hardwood have been traveling to Mongolia for the past 14 years in order to teach English in rural areas. This year, instead of going there themselves, a little bit of Mongolia came to them.

Mongolian exchange student Oyundari Uurdsaikhan, who goes by the name Daria, has been living with the Reynolds family and attending North Dickinson High School for the 2013-2014 academic year.

Daria hails from the capital city Ulaanbaatar, which has a population of about 1.3 million people. There, she lives in an apartment with her family. In Hardwood, she has gotten used to living in a house with a backyard and a lot of trees.

"It's really different," she said of living in a rural area. "In the city, I can walk or take a taxi, but here I have to plan for a day if I want to go somewhere."

Mick pointed out that although Ulaanbaatar is like any other modern city, most other areas of Mongolia are very rural.

The Upper Peninsula winter with its heavy snowfall has also been a new experience for Daria. Mongolia's high altitude and landlocked status make it prone to bitterly cold temperatures, but very little precipitation.

As a result, Daria said that she had never seen as much snow as she did this winter.

"It's one of the sunniest countries in the world," Heidi said of Mongolia's weather. "Sunny, but cold."

School is another area in which Daria has noticed differences.

In Mongolia, she attended a private high school with an emphasis on math. Her school required uniforms, had more class periods per day, did not allow students to choose their own classes, and did not have any school sports teams.

At North Dickinson, Daria has enjoyed the freedom to pick any class she wants. She said that she was able to take a shop class, which is reserved for only boys in Mongolia. As for school activities, she participated in both cheerleading and basketball.

Daria actually graduated from her high school in Mongolia last year. She decided to become an exchange student this year in order to improve her English before applying to American universities.

As Mick explained, Mongolian universities are still transitioning out of the Soviet era.

"A lot of young people want to get out of the country and go to school elsewhere," he said. "An American degree is worth a lot more there."

Daria hopes to attend Northern Michigan University next year to study pre-engineering and one day become an architect.

Being an exchange student and noticing differences between Mongolian and American cultures has given Daria a new perspective.

For one, she has learned that she enjoys American foods.

"There's awesome food here," said Daria. "I don't miss Mongolian food at all."

Some of her favorites include lasagna, pizza, and Heidi's homemade bread.

Daria has also noted differences related to driving.

While Americans can drive at age 16, Mongolians have to wait until they are 18 years old.

"Kids dream about driving in high school," said Daria.

She also credits American roads as being much better than those in Mongolia.

Mick recalled that when he was driving Daria home from the Green Bay airport, her first comment was, "Look at the wonderful roads!"

He added that traffic is a big problem in Ulaanbaatar, due to poor city planning that did not allow for many vehicles. After communism fell, people started bringing more and more vehicles into Mongolia. There is now a system in place in which citizens, as determined by their license plate number, can only drive on certain days of the week.

Daria's American experience is not over yet. In a few weeks, she will get to see an entirely different part of the country when she visits Florida. She is particularly excited to see the ocean for the first time.

Hosting Daria has been a positive experience for the Reynolds family as well.

Since 2000, Mick and Heidi have made numerous summer visits to rural Mongolia in order to teach English through a Christian organization.

As a result of their trips, Mick, Heidi, and their children Molly and Jared have developed a strong interest in Mongolian people and culture. Mick even described the rural people as being similar to Yoopers.

"They're used to the cold, extreme weather," he said. "They can get by on very little, and they're very tough."

With both Mick and Heidi able to speak Mongolian, they sometimes struggle to speak in English to Daria.

"We always want to speak in Mongolian, but we shouldn't because she needs to practice her English," laughed Mick.

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