Monday, March 20, 2017

[MNT halts 2-week winning streak; BoM maintains rate; investor rights council meets; and Mongolian wins Taipei marathon]

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Monday, March 20, 2017

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Jump to: Int'l Market - Local Market - Economy - Politics & Legal - Business - Ulaanbaatar - Diplomacy - Health & Education - Culture & Society - Nature & Environment - Sports - Art & Entertainment - Travel

Headlines in Italic are ones modified by Cover Mongolia from original



Int'l Market

·         Australian mining company to back out of Myanmar investment, stay in Mongolia

Local Market

·         MSE Weekly Report: Top 20 -2.23%, ALL -1.01%, Turnover ₮287.5M Shares, ₮16.9B T-Bills Primary, ₮1.7B Secondary


·         MNT halts 2-week winning streak

·         Mongolia maintains rate, outlook favors rate change

·         BoM issues ₮329.7 billion 1-week bills, total outstanding -30.5% to ₮773.7 billion

·         BoM: NPLs +1.3% in Feb, +17.4% YoY to ₮1.07T, 8.5% of Total Loans, Profit ₮66.4B

Politics & Legal

·         Government pledges continued protection for investor rights

·         Cabinet Secretary speaks to UB residents about IMF negotiations

·         Mongolian Democrats to elect National Policy Committee on April 2

·         Appeal denied for S.Zorig's assailants

·         Wreaths Laid for Soldiers' Day

·         President Ts.Elbegdorj visits military institutes

·         Parliament Speaker attends Mongolian Soldiers' Day celebration

·         AmCham Daily Newswire for March 17, 2017


·         Mongolia plans to export 40 tonnes of gold a year by 2020

·         UN representative notes similarities of banking systems of Tajikistan and Mongolia

·         Jargal DeFacto: Questions Answered in Toronto

·         Mongolian Economic Forum 2017: Tentative Agenda

·         AmCham March Networking Night sponsored by G-Mobile LLC


·         Temperature will reach 2C today in UB

·         Very unhealthy air quality index near MNB today

·         Lead poisoning: Nerve damage threatens children living near Da Khuree

·         Failed ger area redevelopment plan leaves more than 500 people homeless


·         Chinese Ambassador to Mongolia talks to journalists about bilateral economic cooperation

·         Cuban health specialists visit Mongolia

·         Ambassadors' wives promote Mongolian cashmere

·         Taiwan gifts safe stoves to Mongolian ger district families

·         Young Woman Gives Heart-Breaking Account Of What Living In North Korea Is Really Like

Health & Education

·         National Capacity Building Workshop on Education Statistics in Mongolia

·         Adapting to the Land of the Eternal Blue Sky

·         49 Voices: Tsolmon Damba of Anchorage

Culture & Society

·         High levels of consanguinity worrying

·         Beautiful Bodies 2.0: Exhibition by Women for Change NGO

·         A tiny woman against the giant world

·         ACMS Speaker Series: Sandra Vanderwarf, March 21

·         Author L.Ulziitugs presents her book in Belgium

·         Mongolia's reindeer herders defend their way of life

Nature & Environment

·         New Przewalski's foal Nuruu born at Taronga Western Plains Zoo


·         Kenyan, Mongolian runners win New Taipei Wan Jin Shi Marathon

·         Highest ranked Mongolian judokas wrestle each other

·         Mongolia Bike Challenge: Tackling trails and another culture

Art & Entertainment

·         Girl Power: The Eagle Huntress; Beauty and the Beast


·         Land Of Urban Vibe, Rural Scenery, And The Last Nomads In The World




Int'l Market

EUM trading +6.25% midday at A$0.085

Australian mining company to back out of Myanmar investment, stay in Mongolia

YANGON, March 17 (Frontier Myanmar) — Australian mining firm Eumeralla Resources has announced it is planning to divest from its operations in Myanmar, almost four years after it applied for an exploration licence in the country.

In a company prospectus published on March 17, the Perth-based company said it plans to divest or relinquish its business interests in Myanmar and focus more on opportunities back home.

In July 2013, Eumeralla applied for a licence to explore tin and tungsten on a sight in Kayah State, through its 70 percent stake in Mawsaki Mining Company. Local company Myanmar Energy Resources Group held the remaining share of the joint venture.

In October 2014, Eumeralla said it had been approved state government approval for the permit, but was still awaiting Union level permission.

The company says it is now evaluating investments in Australia "in light of the relative lack of success in commercial development" for its mineral exploration ventures in Myanmar and Mongolia.

It said it would continue its operations in Mongolia for the immediate future.

In December, Eumeralla announced it had acquired Ausmex Mining, a privately-held mining firm in Australia.

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Local Market

MSE Weekly Report: Top 20 -2.23%, ALL -1.01%, Turnover 287.5M Shares, 16.9B T-Bills Primary, 1.7B Secondary

March 17 (MSE) --

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Reds are when MNT fell, greens when it rose. Bold reds are rates that set a new historic high at the time.

BoM MNT Rates: Friday, March 17 Close










































































































































































Bank USD rates at time of sending: Khan (Buy ₮2,450 Sell ₮2,460), TDB (Buy ₮2,454 Sell ₮2,464), Golomt (Buy ₮2,450 Sell ₮2,460), XacBank (Buy ₮2,452 Sell ₮2,462), State Bank (Buy ₮2,454 Sell ₮2,464)

USD (blue), CNY (red) vs MNT in last 1 year:

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Mongolia maintains rate, outlook favors rate change

March 17 ( Mongolia's central bank left its policy rate unchanged at 14.0 percent, saying the monetary policy outlook favors future changes to interest rates.

The Bank of Mongolia (BOM) lowered its rate by 100 basis points in December following a sharp 450 point hike in August to help stabilize the exchange rate of the tugrik and preserve international reserves and thus financial stability.

The central bank noted Mongolia's inflation rate rose to 2.1 percent in February from 1.9 percent in January and is expected to rise further but still remain low and below its target due to slow economic activity, with the strength of China's economy the main factor.

Mongolia's inflation rate tumbled to a negative minus 0.2 percent in August last year and remained negative until November as meat prices fell by one-quarter and household incomes fell.

But the central bank said recent changes, such as an extension of the US$2.2 billion swap line with the People's Bank of China, had eased the pressure on short-term foreign payments and had a positive impact on the economy although there is uncertainty regarding the external sector and the budget.

Last month Mongolia reached staff-level agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on an three-year extended fund facility that includes a $440 million loan to help avert default on a $580 million bond repayment due this month by the state-run Development Bank of Mongolia (DBM).

In addition, the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and other countries, such as Japan and South Korea, are providing financial aid, boosting the total financing package to around $5.5 billion.

As part of the agreement with the IMF, Mongolia has agreed that the DBM will operate in an independent, commercial manner and the central bank will not engage in quasi-fiscal activity.

The IMF also said it expects the BOM to continue with an appropriately tight monetary policy, aiming for price stability and first cut rates if external factors and inflation permits. A new law governing the central bank will help strengthen its mandate, governance and independence.

In its December inflation report, the central bank forecast inflation will remain low but relatively stable this year, with deflation continuing until the third quarter due to slow economic activity and low meat prices while exchange rate depreciation will help push up import prices.

The central bank's inflation target for 2016 and 2015 was lowered to 7 percent from 8.0 percent in 2013 and 2014, and 10 percent in 2012.

Mongolia's economy has been hard by the fall in its main export commodities, such as copper and coal, and a collapse in foreign investment.

The central bank expects coal to remain soft as China begins to replace coal with natural gas over the next five years and focuses on solar and wind energy while copper prices are also expected to remain soft for several more years.

The economy, which grew by an estimated 1.0 percent in 2016, was forecast by the central bank in December to expand by between 0.6 and 2.6 percent this year with inflation ranging from 1.9 to 3.9 percent.

By 2019 the IMF expects growth to rise to around 8 percent as mining projects take off, with foreign exchange reserves rising to US$3.8 billion - more than 6 months of imports - to levels seen in 2012 before the country was hit by external shocks.

In the fourth quarter of last year, Mongolia's Gross Domestic Product grew by an annual rate of 1.0 percent following contraction of 1.6 percent in the third quarter.

The exchange rate of Mongolia's tugrik has been depreciating since 2011 and fell over 20 percent from mid-2016 until early January this year.

Since then the tugrik has been slowly appreciating and was trading at 2,443 to the U.S. dollar today, up 1.6 percent since the beginning of this year and up 2 percent since a historic low on Jan. 9 of almost 2,493 to the dollar.

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BoM issues 329.7 billion 1-week bills, total outstanding -30.5% to ₮773.7 billion

March 17 (Bank of Mongolia) BoM issues 1 week bills worth MNT 329.7 billion at a weighted interest rate of 14.0 percent per annum /For previous auctions click here/

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BoM: NPLs +1.3% in Feb, +17.4% YoY to ₮1.07T, 8.5% of Total Loans, Profit ₮66.4B

Key indicators of Mongolian banking system consolidated balance sheet, Feb 2017

March 17 (Bank of Mongolia) --



Number of banks

Bank reservers

Central bank bills

Foreign assets

Government securities

Other securities


Of which

Total Assets

In domestic currency

In foreign currency

Non-performing loans

2008 12












2009 12












2010 12












2011 12












2012 12












2013 12












2014 12












2015 12












2016 02












2016 12












2017 01












2017 02















Current Accounts

Of which:


Of which:

Foreign liabilities

Government deposits

Total Liabilities


Of which:

In domestic currency

In foreign currency

In domestic currency

In foreign currency

Profit/loss of current year

2008 12












2009 12












2010 12












2011 12












2012 12












2013 12












2014 12












2015 12












2016 02












2016 12












2017 01












2017 02












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Politics & Legal

Government pledges continued protection for investor rights

March 17 (MONTSAME) On March 16, the first meeting of a Council to protect the interests of investors was held to hear reports about the current situation of the investment environment and the progress of large-scale investment agreements and arbitration cases or disputes in which the Mongolian government was involved.

More than half of foreign investors in Mongolia are said to have left in the past 4 years. While on the one hand, the reason behind this is the current economic difficulties, on the other hand, inconsistent policy and withdrawal of contracts by the government what caused investors to lose their trust.

Therefore, Prime Minister J.Erdenebat has issued an ordinance to establish the council aimed at urgent settlement of complaints and petitions regarding the protection of the interests and rights of investors and bureaucratic and illegal activities, as well as prevention and potential risks.

Members of the council, chaired by J.Munkhbat, head of Cabinet Secretaries, include Minister of Finance, State Secretaries in charge of Justice and Home Affairs, Road and Transport, Mining and Energy and advisors to the Prime Minister, department heads of corresponding ministers and representatives of National Development Agency, Development Bank, Mongolian Chamber of Commerce and NGOs.  

The meeting held yesterday emphasized the importance of resolving any complaints and petitions made by investors before they are filed to court or arbitration. The council blamed government ministries, agencies and local administration on not functioning properly in this regard. Also, it was reported that foreign investment has been reduced substantially in recent years and there are five major investment contracts made presently.

The current government is working to protect the interests and rights of investors. It is indispensable for us to gain the trusts of investors and attract more investment in order to overcome the economic recession with the help of mutual understanding and creation of more favorable legal environment.

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Cabinet Secretary speaks to UB residents about IMF negotiations

March 19 (UB Post) Cabinet Secretary J.Munkhbat met with Bayangol District residents on March 17, to introduce the implementation of the government's action plan and the country's overall economic situation.

He emphasized that after negotiating with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Government of Mongolia and the IMF reached an agreement to implement a three-year extended fund facility program. He noted that following the implementation of the program, Mongolia will enhance its budget and financial environment and strengthen fiscal discipline.

The Cabinet Secretariat stressed that after resolving Development Bank of Mongolia's 580 million USD Euro bond debt without pressuring the government, the Government of Mongolia issued a bond of 100 million USD, the Khuraldai bond.

Foreign investors offered over three billion USD for the bond, indicating that foreign investors trust investing in Mongolia again. He added that the government is working to carry out budget cuts for heads of government, as well as bringing people to justice for abusing state power in determining how government bond funds were spent.

In response to questions concerning Parliament's vote to transfer Erdenet's privately held stake to state ownership, the Cabinet Secretariat said that the parliamentary resolution to claim the stake was not a move to seize private property, but an action taken to enforce the law.

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Mongolian Democrats to elect National Policy Committee on April 2

March 17 ( The Mongolian Democratic Party is organising the election for its National Policy Committee. The voting will take place on 2nd of April. According to DP leader S.Erdene, a total of 511 candidates have been registered for the National Policy Committee's 380 seats. The open registration for the election closed on 15th of March at 3.00 p.m.

Furthermore, 52 candidates are being nominated for Ulaanbaatar city and as DP provincial directors. Former DP leader D.Battulga and former MP Sh.Tuvdendorj will be contending the post of DP director for Ulaanbaatar city.

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Appeal denied for S.Zorig's assailants

March 18 (UB Post) An appeal for the individuals convicted for the murder of S.Zorig was denied on March 14, due to a lack of new evidence that could lead to their acquittal.

The murder of former Minister of Infrastructure and Member of Parliament S.Zorig was reinvestigated in response to a motion filed by his sister, former Member of Parliament S.Oyun. T.Chimgee and T.Sodnomdarjaa were found guilty of the murder in December 2016, and promptly filed for an appeal.

S.Oyun couldn't attend the appeals hearing and had her brother, S.Bayar, attend in her place.

"I have two things to say. First, my sister didn't refuse to attend today's hearing. She's on a business trip, so I've come as her substitute," S.Bayar said about S.Oyun's absence from the hearing. "Second, I ask that the trial be held openly."

The defendants also asked the court for an open trial.

The hearing continued for several hours before Judge S.Soyombo-Erdene announced the court's decision on the appeal. He noted that the re-opening of the S.Zorig murder case, a crime committed 19 years ago, was requested by S.Oyun and that it was carried out according to Article 308.2 of the Criminal Procedures Code.

"Evidence from the crime scene was taken into custody according to the law and relevant procedures. Nobody's legal rights were violated during the seizure of evidence, and we haven't found any basis to claims that evidence was tampered with or illegally obtained," the judge said.

The court believed that records of the interrogations of B.Sodnomdarjaa and Ts.Amgalanbaatar, B.Sodnomdarjaa's written statement, statements from witnesses, records of evidence found at the crime scene, notes from a search party, and the verification of statements, and forensic reports were found to be consistent throughout the investigation.

Judge S.Soyombo-Erdene added that witnesses were able to immediately identify B.Sodnomdarjaa, Ts.Amgalanbaatar, and T.Chimgee, and that follow-up investigations proved their presence at the crime scene on the night of the murder, making them prime suspects for S.Zorig's murder. The court decision emphasized that the investigation of the crime was conducted legally, and that appropriate sentences were given to the assailants.

Although a separate case has been opened to investigate claims that the murder of S.Zorig was pre-meditated and ordered, the judges ruled that a new case would not affect the court's decisions on the prison sentences given to Ts.Amgalanbaatar, B.Sodnomdarjaa, and T.Chimgee. The sentencing was determined to be applied in accordance with Article 246.1 of the Criminal Procedures Code, which states: "the examination of a case in court shall be carried out only with respect to the defendant and only within the case upon which s/he has been brought to trial".

"Everything related to the case has been reinvestigated according to the Criminal Procedures Code. The appeals of the convicts, their attorneys, and the victim's family to reinvestigate and overrule the court's decision have been denied," Judge S.Soyombo-Erdene announced.

The state's prosecutors say they thoroughly reviewed all reports and records concerning the case, including witness statements, and made some changes to information they found to be incorrect.

They said that Ts.Amgalanbaatar and B.Sodnomdarjaa's motive for the homicide wasn't to "conceal and simplify another crime" but to only "conceal another crime". Ts.Amgalanbaatar was reportedly interrogated according to Article 24.1.3 of the Criminal Code, not Article 24.1.2, and M.Munkhjargal was omitted from the list of victims of the crime, as she was later identified as only being a witness.

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Wreaths Laid for Soldiers' Day

Ulaanbaatar, March 20 /MONTSAME/ Celebrated on March 18, Mongolian Soldiers' Day and the 96th anniversary of modern Mongolian Armed Forces has an additional meaning to it, it is also Men's Day. 

In commemoration of the formation of modern Mongolian army, a wreath-laying ceremony was held at the Central Square and was attended by Defense Minister B.Bat-erdene and some Members of Parliament.

The Defense Minister remarked during the event, "The Armed Forces of Mongolia have had its role in every periods of Mongolian history. Being the foot of patriotic conviction, school of physical and disciplinary strength and reliance of the Mongolian people, we will strive to maintain our might and position".

The Minister added, "The defense sector is celebrating its 96th anniversary with a good deal of success including the adoption of a package law on Defense which had been awaited for a long time".

March 18 marks the day when Mongolian army liberated Kyakhta city in 1921, thus declaring the first historic victory to secure Mongolia's sovereignty and territorial integrity. And following a resolution of State Little Khural, the day was officially marked since 1946. And in 2003, Mongolian Parliament adopted a law on public holidays in which March 18 was named Mongolian Soldiers' Day.

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President Ts.Elbegdorj visits military institutes

Ulaanbaatar /MONTSAME/ On the occasion of the Mongolian Soldiers' Day and the 96th anniversary of Mongolian Armed Forces which was celebrated on March 18, President of Mongolia and Commander in Chief of Mongolian Armed Forces Ts.Elbegdorj visited National Defense University of Mongolia, Temuujin Urlug military school and Central Military Hospital.

Having recently gained a 'national' status, the National Defense University of Mongolia reported on its operations and programs to the President. Affiliated with the National Defense University are number of institutes such as Institute of Defense Studies, National Defense Academy, Military School, National School of Security, Military Music Institute, School of Non-Commissioned Officers and Temuujin Urlug military school.

Established in 2010, the Temuujin Urlug military school now provides military and secondary education to more than 300 pupils. President Ts.Elbegdorj also delivered a speech to the all military personnel who celebrated Soldiers' Day on March 18.

The President's next stop was Mongolian Central Military Hospital which was founded in 1921 and celebrates its 96th anniversary alongside Mongolian Armed Forces this year. The hospital now renders medical aid to not only military personnel but also general public. The President emphasized that the hospital must have the capacity to issue 10 thousand beds to citizens during emergency situations and enhance the quality of its service in cooperation with developed countries.

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Parliament Speaker attends Mongolian Soldiers' Day celebration

Ulaanbaatar, March 20 /MONTSAME/ Chairman of the State Great Khural M.Enkhold attended the ceremony for the Mongolian Soldiers' Day and the 96th anniversary of the establishment of the Armed Forces, on March 17.

He delivered greetings of Mongolian Soldiers' Day, and handed state prizes, orders and awards to the deserved.

In his speech, the Speaker said "Please accept my warmest greetings on Mongolian Soldiers' Day to You and all staff members of police, intelligence and emergency departments through You.

Ninety six years ago, on March 18 of 1921, the Mongolian Militia liberated Kyakhta, which event paved the way for Mongolia to restore its sovereignty and independence. For this reason, this day has been celebrated solemnly since 1946, in accordance with a resolution of the Presidium of the Lower Khural of the People's Republic of Mongolia.

Later in 2003, the State Great Khural passed the Law on Public Holidays and Celebrations and named it Mongolian Soldiers' Day to be celebrated nationwide.

This day is not only a celebration for military personnel who do the honorable and sacrosanct duty to the motherland, but also a glorious day for all Mongolians. Celebrating this day is of essential importance in passing down the pride and mindset to cherish and defend one's own motherland to the future generations and help youngsters get to know the history of their heroic nation.

History of Mongolian army is the chronicles of the glorious deeds of those soldiers who had served for Chinggis Khaan's army, those who are serving in international operations nowadays and all those in between", underlined the Speaker. 

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AmCham Daily Newswire for March 17, 2017


Commission established to collect presidential election ballots from citizens living abroad

Summary: The General Election Commission held a meeting to establish a commission that will be in charge of receiving the votes for the 2017 presidential election from Mongolian citizens living abroad. The Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, D. Davaasuren, will be the Chair of the commission and the Head of the Office for the General Election Commission, D. Bayanduuren, will be the Vice Chairman. The commission is comprised of representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and General Agency for Intellectual Property and State Registration.

Keywords: presidential election, voting, consular services | The National Post /page 2/

People's Parliament Movement proposes a bicameral parliament

Summary: The People's Parliament Movement organized a meeting to discuss having a bicameral parliament in Mongolia. The movement believes that the Constitution should be amended to allow bicameralism to effectively monitor and efficiently run the Mongolian Ikh Khural (Parliament). Former Mayor of Ulaanbaatar E. Bat-Uul participated in the meeting and noted, "Mongolia's society is run by oligarchs and its not possible to develop the economy with free marked based economy. When we approved the Constitution in 1992, we didn't think that the voters would sell their votes and that elected officials would work for their own interests. Back in those days, the People's Parliament Movement had an Ethics Committee, and if it existed today, it would recall the 76 Members of Parliament." E. Bat-Uul noted that the MPs and Cabinet members working on amendments to the Constitution should incorporate the opinions voiced by such organizations as the People's Parliament Movement.

Keywords: Parliament, legislature, democracy | Today /page A2/


The new international airport expected to be operational in 2018

Summary: According to the government's contract signed with Japanese contractors, the New Ulaanbaatar International Airport in Khushig Valley was handed over to the Ministry of Roads and Transportation Development in January. According to preliminary plans, the airport will be operation in May 2018. Currently, construction financed by additional loans is still underway and a 30 km highway financed by a soft loan from China is still under construction. The highway is expected to be complete by October 2018, but the ministry has ordered completion of the highway by May 2018, the same time the airport is scheduled to open.

Keywords: international airport, aviation, Japan | The Official Gazette /page 7/


List of special license holders needing financing will be created for Gold -2 

Summary: The Ministry of Mining and Heavy Industry is currently preparing a list of special license holders in need of financing to effectively implement the Gold-2 program. The main aim of the program is to assist gold mining companies with financial support and to help increase their capacity. The program's goal is for Mongolia's gold miners to produce up to 25 tons of gold by 2020, and to increase the nation's gold reserve by 100-150 tons. Through the government's program, financing will be sought after in cooperation with the Bank of Mongolia. Minister of Mining and Heavy Industry Ts. Dashdorj announced during a roundtable meeting between representatives from the Mongolian and Canadian governments,  that Canadian financing for the Gold-2 program was requested by the Mongolian government. Minister of Finance B. Choijilsuren highlighted the Gatsuurt project financed by Centerra Gold, citing it as an example of other major projects outside the Gold -2 program. The Mongolian gold sector is attracting funding from the international community. Steppe Gold has decided to invest 20 million USD in exploration in Mongolia and has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Mongolian government. Erdene Resource Development holds special gold exploration licenses for the Altan Nar and Bayan Khundii mines and has closed a financing deal of 13.8 million USD.  

Analysts note that even though demand for ornaments with gold is decreasing on the international market, the demand for investment in gold is increasing.

The National Statistics Office reported that in the first two months of 2017, Mongolia exported 30.7 million USD worth of unprocessed and half-processed gold to Great Britain. The monetary value of the gold exported is almost twice as low as it was in the same period last year.

Keywords: mining, gold, investment |

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Mongolia plans to export 40 tonnes of gold a year by 2020

March 17 ( Mongolia Gold 2017 Conference and Exhibition opened at the Chinggis Hotel on 17th of March. The event is being organised by the Mongolian Mining Exchange in cooperation with the Ministry of Mining and Heavy Industry, Mongolbank, BCM and HKIMA.

"Gold-2" was approved by the Mongolian Cabinet as a key part of the raft of measures to revive the economy; it aims at increasing gold production by two to three tonnes annually, leading to an annual production target of 25 tonnes by 2020. Mongolian gold export is forecast to reach 15.8-40.0 tonnes in the next decade and gold revenue to USD 1177.9 million by 2020.

The conference is intended to discuss a wide range of issues connected with the gold mining sector and plans to set goals for seeking ways to improve and stabilise the legal environment for gold mining. The event will address solutions to the recent financial concerns of recent years. Related to this, the government is to implement "Gold-2" project, to introduce gold projects to investors as well as advanced technologies, expand business relations and cooperation, and exchange international experience.

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UN representative notes similarities of banking systems of Tajikistan and Mongolia

March 17 (AKIPRESS.COM) - Deputy Executive Secretary for Programmes of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific Hongjoo Hahm has noted the similarities of banking systems of Tajikistan and Mongolia, reported the press service of the National Bank of Tajikistan...

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Jargal DeFacto: Questions Answered in Toronto

March 19 (UB Post) The Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) Convention, the biggest mining exhibition in the world, has taken place in Toronto every year since 1932. This year, the convention was attended by 22,000 people from 125 countries, and presentations on mining projects by 900 companies. Mongolia was represented by a big group, which included Mining Minister Ts.Dashdorj, government officials, and key representatives from the private sector. An event was organized to talk specifically about opportunities in Mongolia's mining industry.

The Mongolian mining industry event saw speeches given by the Ambassadors of Mongolia and Canada, an overview of mining policy and initiatives conducted by the Mongolian government, and a presentation about Canadian companies that are operating in Mongolia. More than 300 people attended the Mongolia event, including representatives of investment funds and individuals who either own shares of Canadian companies operating in Mongolia or who have taken up an interest in the market. It was noted by some participants that the Mongolia event received many more attendees compared to last year.

Given our full dependence on minerals, Mongolia needs to demonstrate what we have learned from our foreign investment burnout – especially today, when the mining downturn is about to transition into its next cycle of growth.


In 2011, the mining bubble grew to its largest point of industry growth, and the total market value of the 2,684 stock exchange listed mining companies around the world reached 2.5 trillion USD. In the third quarter of 2015, this combined market value dropped below one trillion USD for the first time. Consequently, in the third quarter of 2016, the market value of the 1,675 mining companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange equaled 250 billion USD.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the 40 largest mining companies recorded revenue of 400 billion USD in 2015, but ran a 26 percent deficit.

Due to China's economic transition from manufacturing to services, the demand for minerals decreased and commodity prices fell by 25 percent. In 2015, the 40 largest mining companies scrapped 53 billion USD in low quality assets, and had a loss of 27 billion USD. These companies have put more focus on cost savings and improving productivity. As commodity prices rose at the end of last year, the mining downturn came to its end, and a cycle of growth is now starting. Given that this is the beginning of a growth cycle, the Mongolian government and our mining companies are taking action to attract foreign investment.

During the PDAC Convention, investors were interested in Erdene Resource Development (TSE:ERD), Aspire Mining (ASX:AKM), Xanadu Mines (ASX:XAM), and Steppe Gold. Having arrived in Mongolia almost 20 years ago, Erdene Resource Development has a market value of 130 million CAD and is running the Altannar and Bayankhundii gold exploration projects in Umnogobi. Australia's Aspire Mining discovered the Ovoot coking coal deposit (with a market value of 30 million USD) and has started work in Erdenet to build a 549 km railway. Xanadu Mines discovered coal, gold, and copper deposits in Mongolia and has a market value of 112 million AUD. Steppe Gold is planning to launch an IPO on the Toronto Stock Exchange this year and owns licenses for several gold deposits.

Canadian investors are looking at Mongolia again – the mineral-rich country located right next to China's huge market. It should also be noted that Mongolia has now has significant experience in foreign investment.


Canada is not only a third neighbor to Mongolia but also a strategic partner. Mongolia and Canada established diplomatic relations 44 years ago, and its trade turnover in 2016 reached 19.4 million USD, which is a much smaller sum compared to five years ago.

Canada has invested a total of 6.4 billion USD in Mongolia since 1990, and a majority of the investment has been made in mining. As of 2015, 13 mining companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange operate in Mongolia and own 24 special licenses related to the exploration and extraction of minerals such as gold, copper, and coal.

Turquoise Hill Resources, which is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, owns 66 percent of Oyu Tolgoi's shares. Also, 20 percent of all financing for Oyu Tolgoi's underground mine project comes from Export Development Canada and Canada's Imperial Bank of Commerce.

Canadian company Centerra Gold had mining operations at the Boroo gold mine from 2004-2005, and is now in negotiations with the government to develop the Gatsuurt gold deposit. Another Canadian company, Entree Gold, owns mining licenses surrounding the Oyu Tolgoi license area in Khanbogd and Bayan-Ovoo soums of Umnugobi Province.

Canada sees Mongolia as a priority country in terms of their long-term Asian partnership and for cooperation in the economy and development, and believes the countries have shared values concerning human rights, freedom, and the rule of law.

During the PDAC Convention, Canada's Minister of International Trade and Ts.Dashdorj, Minister of Mining and Heavy Industry of Mongolia, announced that the two countries have established an agreement on protecting and supporting investment.


Minister Ts.Dashdorj also announced that Mongolia is preparing to revise its mining law. The Mongolian government believes that the current minerals law is too focused on special licenses and does not fully address extraction, processing, production, rehabilitation, and mine closure activities.

Questions from investors mainly focused on what changes the new law would entail and how an amended law would affect mining investments, where returns are gained after years and decades.

Minister Ts.Dashdorj said that the government would suspend the joint consultation and issuance of exploration licenses by the central government and local governments, emphasizing that it is a bureaucratic process that puts off investors due to misalignment of interests, and that it creates potential avenues for corruption. However, no one mentioned the underlying issue: the Ministry of Finance is not transferring the legally set terms for royalty payments made to local governments.

Investors asked if a foreign company discovers a major mineral deposit, will the government determine the deposit to be strategic and partly own it? In these cases, how would the government pay for their part of the investment? Will windfall taxes be reinstated if commodity prices experience a sudden surge? The answers to these questions can be given only after amendments to the law are passed.

Future foreign investment depends on how Mongolian lawmakers apply the important lessons learned from previous mining cycles to the laws and policies they are developing.

In any case, it is becoming clear that mining investment could increase given the end of the mining downturn and an increase in commodity prices. However, what is not clear is whether or not every Mongolian household would end up receiving equal benefits from the wealth beneath the ground.

Translated by B.Amar

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Mongolian Economic Forum 2017: Tentative Agenda

March 17 ( Mongolia Economic Forum (MEF) 2017 is scheduled to be held on March 30-31st at the State Palace, under the motto "Think sustainable, Act responsible".

The forum aims to bring together policy makers, the private sector, and civil society representatives to discuss economic issues. Over 1,500 participants attend the forum each year.

We deliver you the tentative program of the two-day forum. 


09:00 Opening remarks:

  • HE  J. Erdenebat, Prime Minister of Mongolia

09:20 Plenary Session: Great Hall

  • Investment Environment and Stability

11:00 Coffee Break
11:30 Working Session:

  • Great Hall: Mongolia's Investment Agenda – Major Projects
  • А  Hall: Laissez-faire
  • B Hall: Supporting business environment through efficient legal regulations

13:00 Lunch
14:00 Working Session:

  • Great Hall: Public Private Dialog
  • А Hall: B2B
  • B Hall: Finance Sector Development

15:30 Coffee Break
16:00 Working Session:

  • Great Hall: Mongol Branding (National Branding)
  • А Hall: Trade facilitation
  • B Hall: E-commerce

19.00 Welcome Reception


09:00 Opening remarks:

  • HE Ts. Elbegdorj, President of Mongolia

09:15 Keynote speech:

  • HE Mr. Mark Garnier, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for International Trade, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

09:30 Plenary Session: Great Hall

  • Macroeconomic Stability

11:00 Coffee Break
11:30 Working Session:

  • Great Hall: How to Raise Funds on London Stock Exchange?
  • А Hall: § 19.1 – Constitution of Mongolia
  • B Hall: Future Tendencies of the Mining Sector

13:00 Lunch
14:00 Working Session:

  • Great Hall: Climate Finance
  • А Hall: Industrialization: Business development trend
  • B Hall: Insurance Market

15:30 Coffee Break
16:00 Working Session:

  • Great Hall: National Identity
  • А Hall: Creative industry
  • B Hall: Agriculture - Cooperatives

17:30 Closing Plenary:

  • Great Hall: Implementation of the  Long-term, Sustainable Development Policy

19:00 Closing Remarks:

  • HE J.Munkhbat, Minister of Mongolia, Chief of Cabinet Secretariat government of Mongolia, Head of the Working group of Mongolia Economic Forum.

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AmCham March Networking Night sponsored by G-Mobile LLC

March 17 (AmCham Mongolia) --

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Temperature will reach 2C today in UB

March 20 (GoGo Mongolia) Mostly cloudy in Ulaanbaatar city today. Winds will reach 7 m/s and temperature will be 2C. 

Temperature will reach 4C in the beginning of the week while it will drop to -1C by the end of the week. 

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Very unhealthy air quality index near MNB today

March 20 (GoGo Mongolia) As of today at 9 a.m (14th Mar), areas nearby Mongolian national broadcasting have the highest air quality index of 409. 

According to the, an air quality monitoring website, levels of PM2.5 particulates reaches;

  • 299 micrograms per cubic meter area nearby Mongolian National Public Television,
  • 143  micrograms per cubic meter in Bayankhoshuu, 
  • 106 micrograms per cubic meter in Nisekh (Airport area). 

Levels of PM2.5 particulates, which are the most hazardous to health, in heavily polluted areas of Ulaanbaatar city exceeds 11 times above the recommended levels, as compared with the World Health Organization safe level of 25. 

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Lead poisoning: Nerve damage threatens children living near Da Khuree

March 17 ( We headed to Da Khuree technical market to find "nerve damage" where the area is always covered with dust and air pollution. 

You might confuse with the word "nerve damage". It represents "lead", which has already acknowledged in the world yet becoming known in our country recently. 

Exposure to lead can occur by contaminated air, soil and water and harm the central nervous system, kidneys and red blood cells, and decreased function in the cardiovascular and immune systems. Lower IQ levels and learning disabilities can also result from lead exposure, especially in children, as young bodies are more sensitive than those of adults.

In Feb, 2017, GoGo News Agency and Mongolian National University of Medical Sciences conducted blood test on lead involving 15 children aged 7-10 years who are living in 5 different areas. As a result, child living near Da Khuree technical market has 5,7-10 mcg/d lead in her blood. 

According to the World Health Organization, there is no known safe blood lead concentration. But it is known that, as lead exposure increases, the range and severity of symptoms and effects also increases. Even blood lead concentrations as low as 5 µg/dl, once thought to be a "safe level", may result in decreased intelligence in children, behavioural difficulties and learning problems.


Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia had 10 thousand vehicles before 1990s, it rose to 36.3 thousand in 1999, later it has reached 467 thousand in 2016, reports City Road Police Department. 

Drivers of the city visit Da Khuree technical market 1-2 times every year for oil change, car repair or to buy cars. It is certain that the area is crowded all year round with both cars and people. 

About 60 services including auto repair, tire repair and car washes operate near the residential areas of Da khuree. Meanwhile over 200 businesses sell cars at the market. If we consider that one person sells five cars at an average, 1000 cars are parked at the market and waiting for their new owner. 

Thus the residents of this area suffer from smoke from car in winter, dust and oil odor in summer. 


According to the study conducted by Institute of Geography and Geo-ecology in 2010, lead in soil was the highest near auto repair centers. 

Where is the highest lead concentration in soil?

Standard for a safe level of soil lead is 100 mcg/d. However it exceeds two times the standard in soil near auto repair center which is amounted to 200 mcg/d due to lead containing automative battery and fuel. 

As stated in a book "Environmental health research" by Dr. B.Burmaajav, 80-90 percent of the lead which contained in fuel is being emited into environment and pollutes the soil. Remaining 15 percent of the lead is used for car engine system. 

However Mongolia has no law banning the use of fuel containing lead.

We interviewed Dr. Sh.Batdelger, Research Office, Public Health Institute on negative impact of vehicle emissions on the human body. 


-What heavy metals that are harmful to human health being emited at an area crowded with car?  
-Heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, fine particles are emited depending on the car type and fuel. 

Vehicle emissions contains barium, copper, lead and zinc. Barium affects respiratory tract and increases the heart rate and blood pressure.

-How oil odor affects health?
-Toxic compounds emited from vehicle adversely affect human health by penetrating into body through respiratory tract and skin. 

It makes bronchitis and asthma chronic and causes heart attack, allergy and respiratory tract infections.

-Does automative battery contain lead?
-Yes. Toxic compounds emitting from automative battery pollutes environment. It is confirmed that 70 percent of the people are working close to automative battery have the highest blood lead level. 

-How lead affects health? How long is it stored in the human body? 
-15 percent of lead penetrated in adult body and 50 percent of lead penetrated in children body stored in their teeth and bones, where it accumulates over time. Compared to the adult, 4-5 times more lead penetrates in children's body. Lead harms brain development, affects kidney and blood pressure. 

Even though we have not tested the soil lead level around Da Khuree, above mentioned facts answered our question - Why child living in Da Khuree has the highest blood lead level?


Blood lead level test was performed on 3 children aged 7-10 years who are living in 17th khoroo of Bayanzurkh district for more than 5 years, which borders with the Da khuree.

Parents say that symptoms such as nosebleeds, fatigue and headaches are common among children. In addition, children experience loss of appetite and become susceptible to diseases in winter and spring. 

B.Ankhtuya, Head of Family Health Center of 17th khoroo agreed with the parents and number of sick children caused by environment pollution is increasing year by year. She added that households who can not afford coal burn old tyres and plastics in winter to survive the cold, which might make children sick. In summer, number of gastrointestinal diseases increase sharply among children due to open dumps. 

In addition, thinness, anemia and weakness are common among children and fuel and oil odor irritates allergy and causes eye flu. 

At least 2000 children are being exposed to lead poisoning in this khoroo. Da Khuree technical market borders with 9 and 19th khoroos. Therefore the lead is threatening more than 5000 children`s health. 

Moreover 31 thousand citizens are living around Da Khuree technical market and no one knows how they are being poisoned by lead through air, water and soil...


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Failed ger area redevelopment plan leaves more than 500 people homeless

March 19 (UB Post) An NGO, which protects the interests of residents in Sansar Town, announced on March 14 that over 500 victims of ger area re-planning program are ready to go on hunger strike unless the state resolves their housing problem.

During a press conference on Tuesday, the NGO reported that 85 families have become homeless as Ikh Urgoo LLC, a contractor in charge of redeveloping ger areas in Bayanzurkh District, failed to meet commission dead- line for the apartments promised to residents.

People living in Sansar Town in Bayanzurkh District evicted their homes by October 15, 2014 after signing contracts with Ikh Urgoo LLC and the Ulaanbaatar Ger Area Development Agency. Seven new apartments and six houses were promised along with a monthly compensation of 500,000 MNT to each household through the contract. However, not a single resident has received compensation and the ground works for three apartments have not been completed, according to residents.

A spokesperson for the NGO said that residents complained about these breaches of contract many times to city authorities and project executors, but haven't received an adequate response.

Residents tried to reason with the founder of Ikh Urgoo LLC and former Member of Parliament D.Arvin, but they were told, "It's not possible to give compensations. We don't have the money."

The spokesperson said that victims of the ger area re-planning program have handed an official document about their problem to the Prime Minster and promised to gather all victims for a hunger strike if their issues aren't addressed by next week.

After the press conference, D.Arvin's brother and executive director of Ikh Urgoo LLC D.Badrakh was asked to comment on resident's statement.

"Eighty companies were selected to implement the ger area re-planning program but the majority of them weren't able to carry out the task. The economic crisis faced by the whole country affected our operations. We're seeking a solution and trying to get loans from banks. For a fact, we have given compensations in the first two years. This matter will be settled soon," he said.

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Chinese Ambassador to Mongolia talks to journalists about bilateral economic cooperation

March 17 (UB Post) On Thursday, Ambassador of China to Mongolia Xing Haiming met with Mongolian journalists to discuss the economic cooperation between Mongolia and China and other foreign affairs issues.

Ambassador Xing emphasized that mining, infrastructure, and humanitarian collaboration are key pieces of economic cooperation between the two countries.

The Ambassador highlighted that the following principles should be pursued to strengthen economic cooperation between the neighbors:

1.    Improve mining, energy, infrastructure, and other cooperation by taking advantage of opportunities for economic cooperation and harnessing cohesion between the development strategies of the two countries; expedite the launching of projects and programs that have been negotiated, and seek mutual benefits from the projects

2.    Look for new directions for economic cooperation, adapt new Chinese technology to develop Mongolia's livestock sector, expand banking and financial cooperation, and go forward incrementally with a currency swap agreement

3.    Move forward on establishing an economic cooperation zone and free-trade zone agreement; establish agreements between Chinese and Mongolian investors; develop an economic corridor between China, Russia, and Mongolia under the Belt and Road Initiative; and develop economic cooperation in areas along the Mongolian and Chinese border

The Chinese Ambassador said that cooperative projects will greatly contribute to the stability of increased economic cooperation, and will help Mongolia overcome its economic challenges.

Ambassador Xing underlined that representative offices of the Bank of China and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China are operating in Ulaanbaatar, but representative offices have no authority to implement cooperation projects or make investments, so China wants to open an institution that has commercial authority in Mongolia. The Ambassador said that the opening of such an organization would allow Chinese investment to flow into Mongolia and help stimulate Mongolia's economic growth.

He added that Chinese representatives have negotiated with Mongolia on this matter, but the negotiations have encountered challenges in the legal and regulatory environment. He emphasized that addressing these challenges are not exclusive to Chinese banks, but that they are a matter concerning all aspects of foreign investment.

The Ambassador noted that trade turnover between Mongolia and China was 5 billion USD last year, but it represented less than one percent of China's foreign trade in 2016. He said there should be a greater focus on developing trade turnover, and that there are numerous opportunities for the countries to take advantage of their improved relations.

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Cuban health specialists visit Mongolia

Ulaanbaatar, March 20 /MONTSAME/ Cuban delegates Eulogio Pimentel, General Director of the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology of Cuba, Manuel Rafael Raices Perez-Castaneda, Business Executive and Project analyst in biotechnology, Abel Hernandez Velazquez, Head of plant biotechnology direction paid a visit to Mongolia on 12-17 March.

During their stay in Mongolia, the specialists from Cuba visited the National Research Center for Zoonotic Diseases, Institute of Animal Health, the First Central Hospital of Mongolia, National Research Center of Infectious Diseases and "Bio-Combinat" SOE. Also, the Cuban specialists exchanged views and experiences with representatives of the "Hope" Cancer-Free Mongolia National Foundation, 'Mongol Em Impex' Concern, "IVCO" Co.,Ltd, Monos Pharma, Songdo Hospital and Monfarm Trade.

On March 16, A.Tsogtsetseg, Minister of Health met with the Cuban specialists and among other issues, expressed her belief that cooperation between the two countries in health sector will significantly contribute to introduction of new advanced technology, treatment and development of biotechnological industry in Mongolia.

Same day, the Letter of Intent for cooperation in the field of cardiovascular disease, hepatitis B, diabetes foot ulcer therapy, hemorrhoids and lung cancer treatments between the First Central Hospital of Mongolia and the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology of Cuba was signed.

During the official visit of Ts.Elbegdorj, President of Mongolia to the Republic of Cuba in September 2016, the President visited the Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Center and invited specialists of the center to visit Mongolia. The visit of the Cuban specialists is one of the follow-ups of the President's visit to Cuba.

With 31 subsidiaries and 78 pharmaceutical manufacturers, and employing over 22 thousand workers, the Cuban Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology is among the five largest genetic engineering and biotechnological centers in the world. The company exports 45 types of medicines and vaccines to more than 50 countries and implements health programs in 23 different countries around the globe.

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Ambassadors' wives promote Mongolian cashmere

March 17 ( On Mar 16, wives of foreign ambassadors residing in Mongolia attended cashmere product fashion show as models. 

Mongolian Wool and Cashmere Association and Women's Diplomatic Club NGO under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs organized the show. 

The show featured Gobi, Goyo, Evseg, Buyan, Blue sky cashmere, Erdenet cashmere, Sor cashmere, Nans cashmere, Uujin, Baylag, Ulzii, Mongol Nekhmel, Goyol cahsmere, Gurvan sor, Gobi-Erdene, National Silk. 

In near future, Government of Mongolia set a goal to increase cashmere product export by 1.5 to 2 times and approved "cahsmere" program. 

D.Altantsetseg, Executive Director of Wool and Cashmere Association:

"Cashmere industry is facing many challenges. Export is one of them. Therefore we are planning to do a lot of work to promote Mongolian cashmere to foreign markets.

In regards, we are promoting Mongolian cashmere with embassies. Today ambassadors` wives and staff of embassies wore Mongolian cashmere products. It is the beginning of our work."

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Taiwan gifts safe stoves to Mongolian ger district families

March 17 ( Huang Guo-rong, Taiwan's Representative to Mongolia has presented 'safe' stoves with barriers and electronic cooking pots for ten 'Ger district' families in Ulaanbaatar. Burns constitute one of the leading causes of childhood injuries to under-fives in Mongolia. The majority of burns occurred at home where there is a high risk of infants stumbling into hot stoves and cooking pots. The barriers are designed to protect small children from such accidents.

Mr.Huang Guo-rong said 'It is so sad that many children suffer burns in Mongolia each year. In order to protect them, we are presenting these families with barrier stoves.'

T.Badamdulam, director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities and E.Galbadrakh, principal of the Burns and Rehabilitation Division of Mongolia's National Centre for Injury Prevention and Control participated in the charity event organised by Taiwan's Representative to Mongolia.

Mr.Huang Guo-rong, recently donated six hemodialysis apparatus and three special water purifier to hospitals in three western provinces as well as a Braille embosser to the Mongolian National Federation of the Blind (MNFB).

The Taiwanese Foundation of Supporting Child and Family has established a 'Ger district' activity in 2007 for supporting 69 families living on the poverty line. The foundation focuses on building fresh water wells, furnishing schools, providing hygienic toilets, libraries and meeting halls.

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Young Woman Gives Heart-Breaking Account Of What Living In North Korea Is Really Like

"Mongolia was our freedom moment. Death or dignity."

March 17 (Malaysian Digest) A speech North Korean activist Park Yeonmi gave two years ago at the One Young World Summit has gone viral only now.

Her heart wrenching and personal story of how she escaped North Korea was recently shared on Facebook and in less than a week, it has been watched over 65 million times.

The 23-year-old shared the hardships and struggles she went through while living under the rule of the Kim dictatorship.

She spoke about how she watched her friend's mother get publicly executed.

"Her crime -- watching a Hollywood movie," she said, struggling to hold back her tears.

"North Korea is the only country in the world that executed people for making unauthorised international phone calls" she said.

However, her nightmare did not end there.

Escape from North Korea was not easy.

Her father died in China shortly after their escape.

"I had to bury him, at 3am in secret. I was 14 years old, I couldn't even cry, I was afraid to be sent back to North Korea" she shared in between sobs.

"The day I escaped North Korea, I saw my mother raped. The rapist was a Chinese broker. He targeted me, I was 13 years old. There is a saying in North Korea: 'Women are weak, but mothers are strong'. My mother allowed herself to be raped in order to protect me."

Determined to "live as humans", Yeonmi and her mother pushed themselves to cross Mongolia.

"Mongolia was our freedom moment. Death or dignity. Armed with knives, we were prepared to kill ourselves if we were going to be sent back to North Korea. We wanted to live as humans.

"No humans deserve to be oppressed just because of their birthplace."

Her speech touched everyone at the conference and it was hard to find a dry eye in the house.

She urged everyone to do their part to help those who are still oppressed and trapped in North Korea under Kim Jong-un's regime.


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Health & Education

National Capacity Building Workshop on Education Statistics in Mongolia

When, local time: Tuesday, 11 April 2017 - 9:00am to Thursday, 13 April 2017 - 5:00pm

Where: Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar

Type of Event: Category 7-Seminar and Workshop

The main objective of the workshop is to enhance local institutional capacity to improve data collection, analysis and reporting for the development of policy. The capacity building workshop will contribute to the localization of SDG 4-Education 2030 Agenda including related targets and indicators. The workshop also aims to raise the understanding on SDG4 global and thematic indicators and their methodologies and strengthen national education statistical system to generate and produce required indicators at national and international level.

The workshop is organized by the Mongolian National Commission for UNESCO, Ministry of Education, Culture, Science and Sport Mongolia, UNICEF Country office in Mongolia, UNESCO Beijing office and the UNESCO Institute of Statistics Regional Unit in Bangkok and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Science and Sport in Mongolia.

The Workshop will bring together major stakeholders in education to discuss key strategies for data collection at national level. Key attendees of the workshop will include the National Statistical Office in Mongolia, the department in charge of adult education and literacy, universities, and government institutions in charge of the regulation of the tertiary institutions, civil society organizations, the Finance Department of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Science and Sport and provincial education authorities.

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Adapting to the Land of the Eternal Blue Sky

By Stella Cai

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, March 17 (The Hoya) "Please do not put your hat on the floor," my host sister, Khaliun, says to me as she picks up my blue Patagonia hat from the floor and carefully places it on the nightstand next to my bed.

"Great, your first hour in the country, and you have already disrespected the local customs," I thought to myself as I began to question my decision to spend six weeks in Mongolia.

This past summer, I signed up on a whim to volunteer for Learning Enterprises to teach English in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. Growing up in China, I had visited the grassy steppes of Inner Mongolia, an autonomous province of China, and heard legends of Genghis Khan, the great Khan who conquered the largest area of land in history. Other than that, I knew nothing about the country or its culture. When I told my family and friends in China that I was going to Mongolia, they all responded with, "Oh, they speak Chinese there, right?"

Not only do Mongolians not speak Chinese, Mongolia is not a part of China. Known as the "Land of the Eternal Blue Sky," Mongolia is a sovereign landlocked country between Russia and China, with the 18th largest land area in the world and a minuscule population of three million, half of which live in the country's capital, Ulaanbaatar.

We were quite a diverse group of volunteers: three American, one Spanish, one Chinese and two Irish students. Each of us came from different backgrounds and had different reasons for travelling to Mongolia. Nonetheless, we shared our daily struggles to come up with a lesson plan for our students, to communicate with our host families and taxi drivers, to determine what exactly was on our lunch plates and to figure out how to decline politely the excess amount of food presented to us by our host families.

We spent our mornings teaching, each of us in charge of our own classrooms; I taught the tenth grade. Most of the students already spoke English pretty well so we did lots of practice for the TOEFL, the Test of English as a Foreign Language, as many of the students hoped to attend university abroad. The students were all eager to learn, choosing to come to class even though they were on their summer breaks. Some of the students were shy at first, but they gradually became more confident and spoke up in class.

We had most of the afternoons free, so we volunteers, often accompanied by our host siblings, spent our days wandering around the city. We went to ethnic restaurants, rode bikes in the children's park, visited many Buddhist temples, attended a Buddhist meditation session, discovered a hidden vegan restaurant and spent many hours in Café Bene and Cherry Bakery.

During our midpoint break, we travelled to the Gobi Desert and experienced the lifestyle of the nomadic people. We stayed in gers, or traditional nomadic dwelling spaces, climbed sand dunes, rode camels and tried fermented horse milk — not my preferred choice of beverage.

I quickly bonded with my host family. Communication was easy, as my host mom was an English teacher, and my host dad had spent some time working in the United States. My host siblings became the siblings I never had; we stayed up watching Harry Potter movies, and I struggled to wake them up in the mornings. Taking time out of their busy schedules, my host parents made sure I saw all the famous sites in the city, and even drove me to Terelj to see the Genghis Khan statue and to visit the grandparents. By the end of the third week, I had met every member of the extended family.

When you travel to a foreign country, you either love or hate the local cuisine. Unfortunately, the meat-heavy Mongolian diet was not my friend. A lover of vegetables, I cringed at the plates of beef and mutton presented to me at the dinner table. Not wanting to be disrespectful, I tried to eat as much as I could. It did not take long for my host family to notice my lack of enthusiasm for the food, so they asked me what I would like to eat. I offered to cook for them and made some classic Chinese dishes like eggs and tomato and chicken and broccoli, which they loved.

As the weeks progressed, I picked up on more Mongolian customs. For example, at mealtimes, the eldest male family member always cuts the meat; when a family member returns or is about to embark on a journey, he or she is presented with a cup or warm milk tea; and, if you accidentally step on someone's foot, you touch his or her hand or arm for a second as a sign of respect.

Six weeks flew by. As someone who spends most of the year away from my own family, I quickly grew attached to my host family. Compared to some of the other volunteers, I did not look like a foreigner and, thanks to the hospitality of the people, I did not feel like a foreigner either. On the last day before my departure, my host mom cooked a pot of milk tea and offered a cup to me. After six weeks in Mongolia, I may not have grown to love the meat and dairy-heavy diet, but I have grown to love the country's rich culture and the people's welcoming warmth.

I gladly drank all the milk tea and, you know what? It tasted like home.

STELLA CAI is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.

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49 Voices: Tsolmon Damba of Anchorage

March 17 (Alaska Public Media) This week we're hearing from Tsolmon Damba in Anchorage. Demba is a nursing student from Mongolia who arrived in Alaska nearly seven years ago to attend UAA. She says the city is not what she expected.

DAMBA: When I first came to the U.S., the first city I went to was Anchorage, so I was expecting really tall buildings like in the movies (laughs). I felt like I was in the countryside. It was totally different from what I imagined at the time.

I thought I was pretty good at English, but when I came here, my listening was not so good. "Cause in Mongolia, I didn't really have anybody to talk to in English but I was pretty good at writing and other stuff.

Also the culture of course. In Mongolia, for example we don't really smile at each other when you pass through somebody and say hi but here it was really different. People passing by me were saying hi and smiling at me. It was not really comfortable, but I adjusted to it, you know? Now I say hi and smile.

Now I feel like Anchorage is my hometown. I'm really excited to graduate, but I'm scared. Honestly, I'm scared and I'm excited at the same time 'cause I'm an international student So I think people want, they prefer residents, citizens when it comes to the jobs.

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Culture & Society

High levels of consanguinity worrying

March 17 (Mongolian Economy) Consanguinity, being of close blood relations, is another disaster Mongolia is facing in addition to air pollution. The number children being born mentally or physically impaired is increasing due to this disaster. For example, 689 impaired children were born between 2005 and 2009 according to statistics. This figure has increased to 1,280 according to a 2015 survey.

The main cause of consanguinity in Mongolia is lack of knowledge of one's relatives and geographic location. According to one study, 73.9-86.1 percent of marriages in soums and small towns are between natives of those places. Mental retardation is highest among economically active people aged 15-64.

One solution for the issue is to maintain records of a family tree and pass it down to future generations. People's awareness and efforts will play a big role in solving this problem in addition to the governmental efforts.

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Beautiful Bodies 2.0: Exhibition by Women for Change NGO

March 19 (UB Post) Women for Change NGO opened "Beautiful Bodies 2.0" at UB Art Gallery on March 13.

According to a survey conducted by Women for Change, 80 percent of Mongolian women are unsatisfied with their bodies, 70 percent of Mongolian women would undergo cosmetic surgery if it was more affordable, 15 percent of all women will experience an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime, and the number of women undergoing cosmetic surgery tripled between 1997 and 2007.

As so many women are unhappy with their bodies and faces, Women for Change wanted to put on an exhibition that would change people's minds and show women that they are truly beautiful.

The NGO, in collaboration with IC Creative Division and the U.S. Embassy in Ulaanbaatar, opened "Beautiful Bodies 2.0" under the theme #BeBoldForChange.

A total of 22 photographs of women that were inspired by world famous artworks are on display for "Beautiful Bodies 2.0".

One of the organizers of the exhibition said, "When you think of beautiful bodies, you probably think of thin, flawless models and celebrities shown in magazines and the media. Unfortunately, too many of us compare our bodies to those women and despair that we will never be as perfect as them."

"Why do we hold ourselves to these unattainable standards of beauty? Countless studies have shown that this way of thinking is dangerous," they added.

Through the exhibition, Women for Change tries to show people that beauty is not fixed or static. Beauty standards change over time and are impacted by culture, colonization, globalization, class, and religion. The exhibition asks women to be positive, to be bold, and to recognize the beauty in all bodies.

Some models for the exhibition's photographs shared their thoughts about their bodies, and most wanted to remain anonymous.

One model said, "Even though I am a healthy weight for my height, I still wish I was thinner and had a flatter stomach. In Australia, where I am from, everyone wants to be skinny and have a perfect suntan. I know that a suntan is unhealthy – and that one in two Australians will get skin cancer in their lifetime – but I like my body more when my skin is darker. It's crazy. One thing I do feel confident about is that six months ago I stopped shaving my legs."

Another model said, "Once I had a perfect body shape that was accepted by society. And there were times when it was considered ugly and undesirable by society. What I, or my body, went through is not that important. I should not have to explain the way my body looks just because I had a baby. I am here…

At this moment, I am just here the way I am. I admire myself with respect. I am proud and love myself the way I am."

Below is a brief interview with the Director of Women for Change, B.Zolzaya.

What do you want to show through "Beautiful Bodies 2.0"?

I tried to show how people saw beauty a very long time ago. That's why we used world famous artworks as inspiration. Beauty is not about body shape or 90 x 60 x 90 measurements.

Ancient painters used to think that there was beauty in every woman and painted them. I wanted to show through the exhibition that everyone is beautiful. Eyes that see beauty can see everything clearly. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

"Beautiful Bodies 2.0" is the second exhibition by Women for Change. How did you come up with the idea for the exhibition?

Women for Change conducted a survey among over 800 women, asking them if they were satisfied with their body and appearance?

The results showed that 80 percent of them were not satisfied with their body and weight. According to statistics, most Mongolian women have healthy bodies, but they always want to lose weight. They take diet pills and follow unhealthy diets. After that, they find that they've lost a lot of money and time, and they get depressed.

I got the idea to release an exhibition from that survey. We have to be proud of ourselves the way we are.

What is a beautiful body to you?

Your current body is beautiful. Appearance is not an important thing, I would say. Our tongue and mouth help us to speak, legs help us to walk, arms help us to do everything, and the brain helps us to think. These are very precious to us. We have to be satisfied with having those things. We have to love everything that we have.

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A tiny woman against the giant world

Mongolia's shortest person alive J.Ichinkhorloo shares the story of her extraordinary life

March 16 (MONTSAME) Women who are shorter than 130 cm and men shorter than 140 cm are recognized as "little people" in Mongolia.  The shortest person ever-recorded is Ms. Ichinkhorloo Jurmed living in Choibalsan, Dornod Aimag. 

It was noted in the fourth series of the 'Compendium of Mongolian Secrets', the record book of Mongolia published in 1990, that "The shortest person of Mongolia J.Ichinkhorloo was born in 1951 in Choibalsan of Dornod Aimag.  She is 90 cm tall and weighs 36 kg".  She was followed by Zina Dovdon, born in 1953 in Ulaanbaatar (117cm) and Dolgor Sodnompil, born in 1947 (124 cm).

Her unique short stature is caused by dwarfism, although both her parents did not have the syndrome and are of ordinary height as well as her older sister. 

"A local nurse comes every month and measures my height and weight.  As I remember I weighed 28 kilograms and was 65 cm tall, according to the latest measurement.  When I was young I was 90 cm tall.  I feel like I'm shrinking as the years go by" said Ichinkhorloo in an interview with back in 2014. 

In a TV interview with MNC channel, broadcasted last month, she said "Although, doctors explained I had some kind of syndrome, I always believed it had something to do with a curse from nature.  My mom used to tell me that, when she was in labor before giving birth to me, she accidentally fell into a headspring of a river when the wheel of our oxcart broke on the way to the hospital.  I think that is when I was cursed". 

Headsprings of rivers are considered sacred in Mongolian culture.  It is a common belief that bathing in or muddling water in spring can pose great danger to the muddler's life as it infuriates the water-spirits.   

Ichinkhorloo was born, raised and still lives in her hometown.  Owning 20 cows for milking, 30-40 sheep and over 200 goats, she is just an ordinary livestock herder. 

"I taught myself how to read and write when I was of school age by having a piece of 'Dul' (Flame) newspaper around and trying to read some of it.  I also taught myself numbers.  I can count up to one million.  That is, I think, an impressive performance for me". 

"My parents refused to send me to school because they were worried that I would be mocked and humiliated and also because most of the parents in those days did not want their children to go to school", she reminisced. 

Ichinkhorloo spent her childhood when Mongolia had a population of only 845.5 thousand and over 20 million livestock to herd.  Children in the countryside were a major help for their parents in day-to-day activities such as chasing the herds of sheep, goats, cattle and horses to pastures, and returning the herds back home in the evening, milking cows, making dairy products, cooking and tailoring clothes for the family and many others chores. 

Nomadic lifestyle, in general, requires each and every family to be self-sustaining manufacturers of their own needs due to the sparse population and the fact that households always had to move from one place to another for better grazing lands depending on the respective climate for each period of the year. 

Ichinkhorloo's mother was a skilled tailor of Deel (Mongolian traditional costume).  "Nobody taught anything to me.  They would let me watch and help.  That was enough for me to learn how to make a nice Deel for people who requested one.  My father always brought me the latest editions of school books so that I could study them in my spare time, and I did". 

Ichinkhorloo said the state grants her a monthly benefit of Tgs 103,600 as a disability grant.  "I wish it went up to at least Tgs 200,000 and that I would be able to take 2-3 months of benefits in advance so that I could prepare for Tsagaan Sar (Mongolian lunar new year).  Unfortunately it is not possible, because I haven't paid any social insurance deductibles since I have never been employed in my life", she said in the interview. 

Her daily routine includes waking up by dawn to milk the cows after relentless effort of towering up little chairs, and if the cow moves away, having to do that over again, as well as cooking meals for the kind-hearted people who are herding her sheep and goats in the morning, bringing water from the well, feeding her five bottle-fed goatlings, and giving hay away for the cattle.  "Running errands used to be a lot easier before my grandson went to the army", she sighed. 

Ichinkhorloo, like any other women, had a chance at life as a mother.  She had a healthy son in 1971, after a necessary C-Section in Ulaanbaatar due to her condition. 

"Do you think my boy is little like me?  He is normal, even taller than average", she said proudly.  Her son Baljir lives with his wife and two children.  Before going into military service, her grandson B.Tsendsuren helped Ichinkhorloo most of the time.

She asks the heavens, mountains and rivers that "watch upon her" to bestow a good wife to her favorite grandson Tsendsuren and give them healthy babies.  "That is my life's wish", she said. 

"Good times have come and people became kinder, especially in Ulaanbaatar.  They do not make fun of me anymore.  Young people would come to me to pose for photographs.  It is different from the old times, when children humiliated and called me a freak.  I am always also delighted that my locality's social welfare services show some privilege to me and prepare all the documents as I sit, simply doing nothing", she smiled.   

Ichinkhorloo said that the situation in hospitals and any other places are pretty much the same.  Her son and grandchildren take her to Ulaanbaatar for sightseeing. 

"They bring out a brand new wheelchair every time I visit them in the city.  It is comfortable to travel that way", said Ichinkhorloo. 

"After all, I am grateful to be born a human, not a dog or a bird.  I have been living my life to the fullest and reached the fine age of my 60s.  My only concern is if any of my great grandchildren inherit my condition.  I instruct them all to get their children properly checked up from a young age". 

"I am right in mind, if not brighter than some people.  It is positivity and mental strength that counts in life", said Ichinkhorloo. 

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ACMS Speaker Series: Sandra Vanderwarf, March 21

Barcoding the Memory of Humankind: An Effort to Improve Security of Mongolia's Cultural Heritage Collections

In recent years, there have been several cases of unlawful possession and sale of Mongolian cultural heritage–most notoriously of the T. Baatar dinosaur by an American fossil hound, but also, regretfully, of artifacts by staff at Mongolian institutions. In response to these cultural heritage crimes, a strict inventory system has been put in place which requires that all museum collections be inventoried every 4 years, and in some cases every 2 years.

While this repetitive inventory is necessary to prevent theft, it's costly, time consuming, and potentially damaging to the collections because of repeated handling. The funds, personnel and time spent on inventory could be better spent on research, exhibitions, and other preservation projects if a more efficient inventory system were introduced. Barcodes have become an industry standard in achieving efficient inventory systems and have been shown to drastically reduce the amount of time needed to complete inventories. In this talk, Sandra discusses the challenges and successes of prototyping a barcode inventory system at the National Museum of Mongolia.

The project is co-sponsored by the U.S. Ambassador's Fund for Cultural Preservation and the American Center for Mongolian Studies.

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Author L.Ulziitugs presents her book in Belgium

March 19 (UB Post) The European Institute for Asia Studies, in cooperation with the Embassy of Mongolia in Belgium, hosted a roundtable meeting on "Mongolian Poetry" with Mongolian author L.Ulziitugs on March 13, in Brussels, Belgium.

During the roundtable meeting, L.Ulziitugs presented her book "Aquarium: Nouvelles de la Mongolie d'aujourd hui".

The author is currently touring Europe to promote her book. French publishing company, Borealia, has partnered with L.Ulziitugs.

"Aquarium: Nouvelles de la Mongolie d'aujourd hui" is the forth Mongolian book to be translated into French.

CEO of the European Institute for Asia Studies Alex Goethals and Ambassador of Mongolia to Belgium O.Och opened the roundtable meeting.

Author S.Ulziitugs underlined the importance of French literature, arts and culture in modern Mongolia and the great influence that authors such as Verne, Hugo, Balzac and Sartre have on contemporary Mongolian writers and poets.

During her tour, author L.Ulziitugs and her husband G.Ayurzana, who is also a famous Mongolian writer, attended a book exhibition in Brussels from March 9 to 13. The exhibition is held annually to promote literature that are being published in French, and those written by well-respected writers from France, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Canada.

L.Ulziitugs is the author of the novel "Nudnii Shilend Uldsen Zurguud" (The Pictures That Remain in the Eyeglasses) and four books of poetry.

In 2002, her poetry collection "Erkh Chuluutei Baikhiin Urlag Buyu Shine Nom" was nomi-
nated for the national literary award Altan Ud (Golden Feather).

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Mongolia's reindeer herders defend their way of life

In northern Mongolia, an ethnic group of reindeer herders and rangers face mutual distrust in protecting the same land.

Tsagaannuur, Mongolia, March 18 (Al Jazeera) - Seated in a white teepee perched on a cliff that overlooks a snow-covered coniferous forest, Delger Gorshik talks about how his life as a Dukha, one of the world's smallest ethnic minorities, has changed over the years.

"When I was a child, the only thing we could use for a light was a candle. Today, we have electric lamps and solar panels. This teepee used to be covered with animal skin; today, we use cloth canvas," the 55-year-old says.

"And now," he adds, gesturing downhill to where his daughter and son-in-law live. "As you can see, we even have wooden houses."

Within the northern Mongolian snow forest, or taiga, the Dukha - whose population is estimated to be fewer than 300 - live as nomadic reindeer herders.

Often referred to as the Tsaatan in the Mongolian language, which literally means "reindeer people", the Dukha's lives are structured around their animals. They move between seasonal locations within the east and west taiga according to their herds' grazing needs and comfort.

This year was the first winter in the west taiga that Gorshik's family had ever built a log cabin, a feat that took his son-in-law five months to complete. Eschewing the teepee - known as an ortz, the Dukha's traditional dwelling - Gorshik admits that his daughter's cabin was much warmer and he would consider building one for the following winter.

"Some of the change is good, like having a lamp or TV," he says. "But development could lead to my culture diminishing as well."

Conservation zone

Gorshik's greatest source of anxiety comes from the creation in 2011 of a conservation zone named the Tengis-Shishged Protected Area, which borders the land that the Dukha live on in northern Khovsgol province.

Since its establishment, Gorshik and his family say that hunting - something that the Dukha have relied on for food and money since 1992 when the socialist government was abolished, and with it, the hunting collectives they worked in - has been forbidden.

"No one hunts any more. Everyone eats the reindeer if we need meat," Gorshik says. "But to have meat, we also need to be able to raise them."

He explains that their reindeer, once free to graze all over the taiga's biodiverse-rich land, are now restricted to pasture outside the protected zone. If rangers catch the Dukha in the protected area, they chase them out.

"When it comes to hunting, I can understand the regulations in place. I can live without hunting," he says. "But the main problem is that the regulations also limit our pastureland. We can stay in the same area with 30 reindeer, but after all the grass is gone, we need to change to a different spot."

His laments are echoed by many of his fellow Dukha.

For the tiny ethnic minority, the regulations of the protected zone, enforced with fines and prison sentences, feel like a personal affront to the Dukha's existence, especially since they say they were not properly consulted before the zone's establishment.

But proponents of the conservation zone, including rangers, insist that the rules are necessary to preserve the taiga, which is home to many protected and endangered species such as the snow leopard, the argali mountain sheep, the musk deer, and the ibex. According to rangers, these creatures are vulnerable not only to the Dukha's hunting practices, but also to the illegal miners invested in plumbing the gold and jade-rich mountain ranges. 

With mutual distrust on both sides marring conducive discussion, this tug-of-war surrounding the taiga's survival - and what that means for either party - is replayed across the world, serving as a reminder of the complexities involved in conservation projects with local communities living within them.

Up-hill battle for rangers

To reach the Dukha's camps in the winter, one must drive across the frozen Lake Khovsgol, a wide expanse of deep-blue ice, followed by a nine-hour trawl through shin-deep snow that marks every inch of the rolling hills.

For the Dukha camps in the west taiga, travelling by horseback on the ever-rising terrain is often the sole way to ensure passage through the seemingly never-ending valleys, which trap biting wind coming from Siberia. In the east, the Dukha communities live in the thick of the forest, their teepees surrounded by trees and shrubbery.

With only 39 rangers patrolling the combined 875,771-hectare area of the east and west taiga, Tumursukh Jal - head of the Tengis-Shishged protected area and a Darkhad, an ethnic minority group that lives mostly in Khovsgol province - often feels that protecting the region is an uphill battle.

But his 30-year tenure in the province has been marked with successes, resulting in a vast swatch of land in Mongolia's northernmost region being designated as three separate protected zones due to their unique fauna and endangered animals, like the snow leopards.

Jal and his colleagues' lobbying and advocacy led to the Khovsgol government cancelling more than 40 mining licences that were awarded to companies, including Mongolian mining giants Altan Dornod and Mongol Gazar.

"In 2009, the local government of Khovsgol started the regulations [for the protected zones]. They decided to protect," Dal says. "By 2011, all 44 mining licences were cancelled completely."

While the mining companies are no longer zeroing in on his beloved taiga, Jal and his rangers still face threats from unregulated predators.

He describes a month in 2015 to Al Jazeera: On September 16, his rangers found two separate groups of about 20 people traipsing around the protected zone with jade stones that they believe were illegally mined. The next day, he caught two officers from the local border patrol guard fishing illegally within the taiga's rivers. "We arrested them," he says.

Then, on September 29, rangers caught five people hunting a moose. One of them was a Dukha, while another turned out to be the head of Tsagaannuur district, a revelation that disgusted Jal.

"I just lost faith because the head of Tsagaannuur district has the responsibility to protect the nature, but he was also hunting," he says.

While the number of illegal hunting and fishing cases within Tengis-Shishged appears modest - 16 in 2016, eight in 2015, and 23 in 2014 - Jal says these numbers don't reflect the hunts they have stopped due to the rangers' close watch on the Dukha community and their summer patrols.

"In terms of prevention, we stopped over 300 cases [in 2015]."

Despite the September 2015 moose-hunting incident being the sole instance involving a Dukha, Jal carries a great sense of distrust towards their community. He attributes this to the diminishing wildlife around their summer and winter camps before the Tengis-Shishged Protected Area was established, which he has observed by counting the footprints of certain animals after each snowfall. Now, only five years after the protected area was established, Jal says that the number of elk and moose has increased.

"When we counted the moose population last year, there were 210 moose so we are very happy about that because that means it has increased," he says. "In 2010, there was almost none left. This was all happening around the areas where they live."

Jal also does not believe the Dukha's claims about subsistence hunting.

"In the old days, the traditional subsistence-hunting model existed. That meant they hunted only for their own food. But after the socialist system was changed, it became more like hunting for money," he says. "It is this type of hunting that has destroyed the wildlife in the taiga."

Caught in the middle

For Uwugdorj Delger, a former ranger who retired last year, Jal's statements ring true. A 62-year-old Dukha living in the east taiga, Delger was recruited by Jal in 2013 to patrol the east and west taiga to quell the illegal mining activities and poaching.

"We used to hunt a lot, it was out of control," he admits. In fact, Delger's hunting prowess was useful under Mongolia's socialist system, when he worked as a state hunter, felling and skinning mink to sell to Russia.

"We used to think that since we live here in the forest, all the animals around us belong to us and we should be able to hunt and eat them as we please," Delger, who owns about 30 reindeer, says.

His change of heart came after the fall of the regime when he saw that blood sports continued unabated. "It hurt me because with this type of pace, I felt like the wildlife will just disappear," he says.

During his three-year tenure as a ranger, the elderly reindeer herder often felt like he was caught between his community and his duty. He started losing friends and neighbours and young Dukha men would attempt to punch him when they got drunk. Some even threatened to kill him.

"The regulations have been in place for four or five years, so it's getting better and people are more used to it," he says, adding that some Dukha still secretly hunt.

Many others within the east and the west taiga flatly deny this, saying that they only hunt to protect their reindeer herds from wolves.

Aside from the hunting restrictions, the hardest part for many is the sense of losing ownership over the land they have inhabited for decades.

Dawaajaw Balanish, 47, says that when rangers visited the camps they would interrogate the Dukha about the whereabouts of absent neighbours who had taken their reindeer out to graze. Worse, the rangers would always insinuate that a missing person was off hunting.

"If someone is not there, they would keep on interrogating us about where the other people are, what they are doing," Balanish says. "It makes me feel like I'm a prisoner."

Dialogue with the communities

According to Simon Counsell, executive director of Rainforest Foundation UK, this type of police-like monitoring of local communities within conservation projects can actually be detrimental to a protected zone's goals. These communities typically have an invested interest in their environment, and would therefore be amenable to resisting poachers from the outside, he says.

"For people who used to hunt sustainably for their own needs, if you deny them their rights to do it and they are completely dispossessed from it, then they would feel like they might as well go along with the commercial poachers from [outside the zone]," Counsell says. "So what they may have done … is that they may have turned the gamekeepers into poachers when they take away [the local community's] own right to do it sustainably."

To arrive at a conversation about manageable hunting, he says, the project's administrators need to engage the local community in what is known as Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC), where residents are given a proper chance to accept or reject changes to the laws of their homeland.

"To just say, 'We had a meeting in the village,' or 'We met with the tribal elders' - that wouldn't qualify as proper FPIC. People might have felt that they were under duress to accept proposals, they probably weren't informed on all the consequences of what the changes would do to their livelihoods, and they may not have understood if they even had a chance to say yes or no to these proposals," Counsell says.

"Did these people really have the Free Prior Informed Consent? Because if not, [the protected zone's staff] have to accept that they have to go back and do that again," he says. "They need to have meaningful dialogue with people."

Working with the Dukha

Interviews with the Dukha living in the east and west taiga show that there is a lack of clarity about what is allowed or restricted and only a vociferous flood of objections to how the zone is maintained.

Some Dukha say that absolutely no hunting is permitted. Others believe that they could hunt animals that were not protected, like wolves or foxes. Some believed that they had to get a permit to go within the protected zone's pasture to let their reindeer to graze.

The zone's head, Jal, says that a permit isn't necessary - just a commitment not to hunt. However, he acknowledges that his rangers have chased the Dukha out of pasture in the protected area in the past because of their belief that they were actually using their herds as a cover for hunts.

More than five years after the zone's establishment, Jal concedes that his rangers should wield a softer approach to enforcing the regulations. When they first started out, the absolute priority was to expel the illegal miners excavating the taiga's mountain scraggly ranges, and that required tough monitoring methods, he says.

"Now it's getting better. So what we are planning now is to work with the Tsaatan. Now we can try to have better people management. We didn't have time to do that before, to focus on our behaviour towards them," Jal says. "Now, we will work on that, on establishing a softer relationship between the rangers and locals."

Inclusiveness is all Gorshik, the Dukha in the west taiga, asks for.

"The government didn't cooperate with us or talk to us about this," he says, wringing his hands in exasperation. "If they had cooperated with us, I would personally say okay to the regulations. We can live without hunting. We can stop cutting down trees."

The Dukha have just one demand. "Just let us stay here," Gorshik says. "Our reindeer are the most important part of who we are."

With reporting contributions by Munkhbat Batbekh

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Nature & Environment

New Przewalski's foal Nuruu born at Taronga Western Plains Zoo

March 17 (Daily Liberal) In recent times they were thought to be extinct, but the Przewalski's horse is thriving at Dubbo zoo with a foal added to the herd.

On February 22 a female Przewalski's horse was born at Taronga Western Plains Zoo and ungulate keeper Anthony Dorrian said Nuruu was fitting in great with the rest of the animals.

Nuruu was named after Mongolian national park 'Khustain Nuruu', one of the few parks where Przewalski's horse can be found in the wild.

She's the fourth foal born to mother Suren and sire Stan.

"Her mother is extremely attentive, she's been keeping her very close and Nuruu's getting on very well with he rest of the herd. She's charging around the exhibit and she's even starting to vocalise now as well," Mr Dorian said.

The Przewalski's horse faced extinction but is now classified as critically endangered. 

Taronga Western Plains Zoo has had a significant role in their success. Since the horses started being bred in 1982 there have been more than 35 foals, and in 1995 the zoo sent five horses to Mongolia to be reintroduced into the wild.

While the zoo has no current plans to release more Pzrewalski's horses in Mongolia, Mr Dorrian said the Dubbo herd was always there as a backup.

The animals look similar to a domestic horse, and they share a close history.

"They are very closely related to the domestic horse and I understand numbers being so low, even in captivity, domestic horses were put through these guys to actually increase their genetic viability. The numbers grew and the genetics were comfortable enough that they actually started to breed out that domestic horse," the keeper said.

The horses often miss out on the spotlight in Dubbo.

"They don't have the high profile of say lions and tigers and other big animals, and people sometimes simply look at them as a horse... but it's just one of those facts I suppose that not every animal can be at the peak of public interest. These guys really just sit in the background and they do their job quite well," Mr Dorrian said.

Nuruu has been on display at the zoo since the day she was born. Later in the year it is expected she will be joined by some siblings.

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Kenyan, Mongolian runners win New Taipei Wan Jin Shi Marathon

Taipei, March 19 (CNA) Runners from Kenya and Mongolia won the men's and women's titles, respectively, in the 2017 New Taipei Wan Jin Shi Marathon on Sunday.

Kipkogei Yego of Kenya completed the men's marathon in 2 hours, 17 minutes and 2 seconds to snatch the men's title, although he failed to beat the 02:13:05 record set by compatriot William Chebon Chebor in last year's event.

Coming in second was Debele Belda of Ethiopia who finished in a time of 02:17:04, while Kipchirchir Keiyo of Kenya placed third with a time of 02:17:15.

Taiwan's best performance in the men's category was a 16th place finish by Lin Yu-hung (林育宏), who finished with a time of 02:34:34.

Mongolia's Munkhzaya Bayartsogt took the women's title with 02:38:08, while Ethiopia's Gebre Getiso came in second with a time of 02:38:21, and compatriot Ayele Belachew finished third with 02:39:07.

Taiwan's Lin Yu-hsin (林于馨) finished 13th with 03:03:28, which made her Taiwan's best performer in the women's race.

The annual race attracted some 12,000 runners from home and abroad, including 32 elite international runners, the organizers said.

The Wan Jin Shi Marathon is the only local athletic competition with international accreditation. It has gained international bronze certification status from the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) for three consecutive years since 2015.

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Highest ranked Mongolian judokas wrestle each other

March 17 ( A half billion cash prized judo competition named after the honoured Mongolian athlete D.Tserenkhand took place at the Mongolian National Circus on 16th of March at 6 p.m. The Mongolian Olympic and World medalists' team won 5:2 points in the competition.

Famous Mongolian judokas, namely, Olympic medalists N.Tuvshinbayar, D.Sumya, G.Otgontsetseg, world champions Kh.Tsagaanbaatar, M.Urantsetseg, G.Boldbaatar, D.Amartuvshin,  Ts.Munkhzaya, international masters of sport D.Tumurkhuleg, L.Enkhriilen, O.Uuganbayar, B.Gankhaich, J.Amarbold participated in this, the country's biggest judo competition.

 The event opened with a match between G.Boldbaatar and D.Tumurkhuleg; closed M.Urantsetseg and G.Otgontsetseg fighted each other. World top-ranking judoka of her weight group (48kg), M.Urantsetseg defeated Olympic bronze medalist G.Otgontsetseg by wazari point. After this match, M.Urantsetseg took five wins in eight matches with G.Otgontsetseg.

G.Otgontsetseg is well-known; although a Mongolian she competes for Kazakhstan. She was specially invited to the competition. She has been wrestling for Kazakhstan since the Rio-2016 Olympics.

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Mongolia Bike Challenge: Tackling trails and another culture

March 16 (Monterey Herald) There are all kinds of ways to mark a milestone birthday. Some people choose to ignore it altogether, while others celebrate with big parties. And then there's a handful, like JD Bergmann, who take the plunge and tackle something big on their bucket list.

For his 40th birthday, the Bay Area resident and Aptos High graduate decided to fly more than 6,000 miles to Mongolia to compete in what Outside magazine recently called "the hardest mountain biking race on earth." The Mongolia Bike Challenge is an epic, six-stage mountain bike race in the land of Genghis Khan. It was Bergmann's first time to the country, which is sandwiched between China to the south and Russia to the north. For the 375-mile race this past August, Bergmann traversed grassy steppe and climbed into mountainous terrain in a land that is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world.

The population of three million people, primarily Buddhist, is concentrated in Ulaanbaatar, the capital and largest city — and the location for the start of the race. The Category 1 racer and member of Team Clif Bar Cycling typically competes against professional racers, but things shifted unexpectedly during his race. Spin City talks to Bergmann about his fat tire adventure where about a quarter of the 65 racers didn't make it to the finish line.

Q: How did you decide to take this trip?

A: I'm primarily a road racer. For the past six years, I've traveled around the U.S. with my team racing the bigger criteriums. I do a few a mountain bike events. This trip was a birthday present to myself. I'd first heard about it two or three years ago and it appealed to me. It's a way for me to go to a place I would never otherwise go. I had the chance to see a different culture and place. I had the bike as a way to connect with people.

Q: What did you notice about the culture?

A: The culture is way more Russian-influenced than I had thought. All the signs are in Cyrillic and the architecture looks like Eastern bloc facades. People are 10 times more likely to speak Russian than English. One night, after the race, we joined the one Mongolian racer for a night at the local bar. That was fun.

Q: Tell me about your athletic background.

A: I went to Aptos High School and UC San Diego. I didn't start racing until later when I was 23 or 24. I got fat in college and when I was done I decided to do something. I did triathlons and then remembered I hated running. I discovered bike racing and that made things more fun. Before Mongolia, the Leadville Trail 100 in the Colorado Rockies was the hardest mountain bike race I'd done.

Q: What kind of training did you do for this event?

A: I did my normal road race training for crits plus one four-hour mountain bike ride per week. I usually rode after work, at night, solo in Albany and the Berkeley Hills. I ride about 15 to 20 hours a week and cover probably 250 to 400 miles a week. I work in a bike shop in the Bay Area and do massage therapy, so my work is flexible.

Q: Nutrition is a critical part of any endurance event. What was the food like?

A: The food was not particularly good. We actually both got stomach viruses before the race started — dysentery issues. That's not good in the middle of these giant wide-open plains. As honored guests, we got the fattiest cuts of meat. In Mongolia the year-round average temperature is 5 degrees below zero; there are three months where it's 40 degrees below zero. The food is 100 percent about calories, not taste. So we had beef, lamb or goat. The Mongolian soups were tasty. We also had pasta, drink mix and Clif bars. Good rice would have been good.

Q: How did getting sick right before the race impact your expectations?

A: I wasn't going into it thinking to win, but I was expecting a top-10 finish and to race well. But when you end up with a crazy stomach bug the whole thing turns into, can I finish the race? I knew it would be hard, but it wasn't a question of can I do this. For a lot of people there, it was a lifetime challenge.

Q: Where did you sleep?

A: I spent six nights in yurts called gers. They were touristy but of traditional construction. No one actually lives in them. There were six of us on beds with mattresses and a fireplace in the middle. One night we camped in Gorkhi-Terelj National Park by a beautiful river. My favorite thing is, one night there was thunder and lightning, and one of our Mongolian friends said, "The dragons are fighting."

Q: Did you have to dodge yaks and wild horses? Describe the land.

A: No yaks. There were herds of cows, sheep and goats that would not move off the road, so you had to quickly zigzag through them. The scenery was amazing — completely mind-blowing. Mongolia truly is big sky country. You'll be riding along and there are crazy green hills and white clouds. You can see cyclists off on the horizon miles away. There were plenty of times I was completely alone with no one for miles around; very cool. The solitude stuck out.

Q: What the hardest part of the race?

A: The second day, the longest hardest day of the whole thing, with 85 miles with 9K of climbing, I was halfway through at the top of the biggest climb. I had spent the whole night before the start throwing up. On the first day, none of the food was going to stay down. On Day 2, I was able to eat a little more, though not enough, plus I was stopping behind the bushes. That's metaphorically because there were no bushes. At the top of the biggest climb, on Day 2, there was a rest stop and I laid down for five to 10 minutes. I had to regroup. For me, it's all about the competition. It just comes down to letting as few people beat me as possible. I knew I would get up. If I were healthy the whole way through, it would have been a different race.

Q: What was the best part of the Mongolia Bike Challenge?

A: Getting to sleep every night in a ger halfway around the world. I went into this with an adventure mindset. For me, it was exactly what I expected. I wanted get off the grid and be out there in the middle of Mongolia. When you don't have a phone and can't speak the language, it feels like some crazy adventure. Who knows what could happen. We could die out here, I could get lost and never be found and you'd find me next spring. The biggest takeaway for me is going to different places outside out of your comfort is a good thing do.

The Mongolia Bike Challenge is open to both professional and amateur racers. For more information, visit: Karen Kefauver ( is a freelance writer who covers sports and travel and is based in Santa Cruz. Her Spin City bike column appears monthly and was launched in 2009.

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Art & Entertainment

Girl Power: The Eagle Huntress; Beauty and the Beast

March 18 (The Australian) Two films about girl power this week, and what's surprising about this mix-and-match is that the more evocative, exciting and moving one is not the glamorous Disney retelling of a fairytale but a Kazakh-language documentary set on Mongolia's minus 50C frozen steppes.

Disney's $US160 million live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast has its thrills and charms but The Eagle Huntress is something else altogether, for different reasons, some of which have been criticised. I'll come to the criticisms later. You can read about them before seeing the film, or afterwards, and make up your own mind. But don't decide not to go. You would be missing something that soars in more ways that one. The cinematography, some of it using cameras on drones, is awe-inspiring, especially when it follows an eagle in flight.

The main character is Aisholpan, a "child of the nomads" who has just turned 13. She has a younger brother and a younger sister. The family lives in a pleasant, skin-covered yurt in Mongolia, near the Altai Mountains. That's in summer, of course, when you need only one coat. In winter the yurt is disassembled and the family moves into a "regular house", as the father, Nurgaiv, describes the modest shack.

Aisholpan comes across as calm, thoughtful, loving and respectful — there's a beautiful stillness to her, and no iPhone in sight — but also as a girl who likes chatting with her schoolfriends. She attends a boarding school five days a week. When at home, she helps with the livestock.

She does well at school and hopes to become a doctor. But her teen dream is to follow in the footsteps of her father and become an eagle hunter. Her living paternal grandfather was one, too: indeed it goes back 12 generations in her family. All of them, however, were men.

"It is not a choice,'' Nurgaiv says. "It is a calling that has to be in our blood.'' He backs his daughter with love, tenderness and confidence in her abilities, despite some local unhappiness about her plans. That is one of the wonders of the film: it is a father-daughter story that touches the heart. Her mother backs her, too. "It's a woman's right to choose,'' she says.

It's important to read the phrase eagle hunter the right way. They don't hunt eagles. They train golden eagles — massive birds with a wingspan of up to 2m — to hunt for them, mainly foxes for their fur and meat.

First, though, they have to catch an eagle, and this is where there's a nice story behind the film. Young New York-based British director Otto Bell arrived in Mongolia with a cameraman friend and tracked down Aisholpan and her father just as they were preparing to abduct an eaglet from its nest. They agreed to be filmed, and the result is spectacular.

Bell was inspired to make the film by a photograph of Aisholpan he spotted on a BBC website. He started the project with his own money. He soon ran out and was able to finish the film due only, once again, to good luck.

He emailed American filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, of Super Size Me fame, attaching a 10-minute clip of what he had filmed. "And thank god, he opened it,'' Bell said in one interview, "and wrote back that afternoon and said, 'I've never seen anything like this, come to my office, explain to me how I can help you finish this.' "

Spurlock is a producer, as is English actress Daisy Ridley (Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens), who also was also won over by the footage. She also does the English narration that introduces and then interlinks the story.

Simon Niblett's cinematography brings together the close relationship between the people and their beloved eagles (by custom the birds are returned to the wild after seven years). Shots of father and daughter on horseback, riding through deep snow, each with an imperious eagle on their right arm, are gorgeous. They remind us that there are other worlds within our own. The shots of eagles sweeping through the sky remind us there are worlds beyond ours.

Once she has her eagle trained, Aisholpan decides to enter the celebrated Golden Eagle Festival in the provincial capital of Olgii. She is laughed at and stared at by the men there, but not in a nasty way. They just think it's silly. Her real challenge comes next: to go out into the snow and hunt a fox. This can take weeks.

Bell has been accused of fudging the story. Women in Mongolia have hunted with eagles for a long time, experts say. This seems to be true. I also think Bell over-eggs the idea that the local men were disgruntled by this feminist uprising. The edited shots of men in their yurts saying "No!" feel constructed. Indeed, Mongolia is known for its gender equality.

So perhaps the director has fudged it a bit, but his intention was to make a beautiful film about one girl from a place and a culture we know little about. That he has done. Aisholpan is real. Her personal story is true and I think anyone who sees it will leave the cinema feeling better about the world.

Beauty and the Beast isan acted remake of Disney's 1991 animated classic. Just doing this is a bold move, as the predecessor made history: it was the first animated film to be nominated for a best picture Oscar (the statuette went to another film about a brave woman and a beast, Jonathan Demme's Silence of the Lambs). But Howard Ashman and Alan Menken did win Oscars for original score and original song.

Disney put a lot of money behind the new one, and hired a talented director in Bill Condon, who wrote and directed Dreamgirls (2006) and was Oscar-nominated for the script of Chicago (2002). My favourite Condon film is Gods and Monsters (1998), about the 1930s horror film master James Whale, which he wrote and directed, with Ian McKellen in the lead role.

I wish Condon had written this one too. The script is by American novelist Stephen Chbosky and screenwriter Evan Spiliotopoulos. The dialogue is good at times, quite witty and even a bit salacious for a Disney film (more on that soon), but there are flat spots.

The best characters are, like the original, not actors on screen. They are the staff at the prince's castle who are transformed into household objects: the dashing butler who becomes a cool candelabra (Ewan McGregor), the unctuous steward turned into an overwound clock (McKellen), the composer who is now a harpsichord (Stanley Tucci) and the maid mutated into a pink featherduster (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). And then there's the hardest role of all, because she's following Angela Lansbury: Emma Thompson as the cook who becomes a teapot.

The civilised argy-bargy between them is fun. When the beauty, Belle (English actress Emma Watson), realises they have identities, she asks who the hairbrush used to be. "That's just a hairbrush,'' the candelabra Lumiere says with a laugh.

Belle is in the prince's castle because her father Maurice (a fine Kevin Kline) is imprisoned there. The prince, who we meet at the start as an arrogant young man, has been turned into a "hideous beast" by an enchantress he mocked. The same spell also led to the staff changes. In one room there is a red rose under glass. If the Beast (English actor Dan Stevens) does not win someone's love before the final petal falls, he will be a monster forever.

Stevens, known from Downtown Abbey, is commanding as the hairy, horned, cranky recluse who likes to read Shakespeare. It's the Shakespeare and other books in the castle ­library that appeal to Belle, whom one villager describes negatively as "beautiful but so well-read". Here we have the girl-power element: can she overcome all the entrenched gender prejudices, and some of her own, to live freely?

She is pursued by handsome lothario Gaston (Welsh actor Luke Evans), who has an admiring sidekick, LeFou (Josh Gad). Too admiring for some. He clearly fancies Gaston, making him Disney's first gay character, which has seen the film banned in places such as Malaysia and Alabama. The back-and-forth between the two men, with a few double entendres, is a highlight. Both Gaston and LeFou are introduced characters, by the way, absent from the 18th-century French versions of the story.

There are some uplifting moments between Belle and the Beast, such as a snowball fight and a mutual flouting of soup-eating etiquette. The songs are splendid and the camerawork is attractive but overall there's a lack of the tension that impels audiences to wonder what will happen next. That's partly because we know. And personally I don't think the Beast is anywhere near beastly enough.

The Eagle Huntress (G): 4 stars, Limited release

Beauty and the Beast (PG): 2.5 stars, National release from Thursday

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Land Of Urban Vibe, Rural Scenery, And The Last Nomads In The World

March 16 (Youth Time Magazine) Now it's time for a real adventure. We are heading to an unfairly underestimated country in the middle of Asia – Mongolia. Mongolia is a landlocked country of vast steppes, blue skies, mountains, hawks, horses, historical heroes, and yoghurt. Probably the most famous thing about Mongolia is its great hero and warrior king, Genghis Khan, who managed to conquer almost the whole world and created an empire that briefly stretched from the Korean Peninsula to the Black Sea. The country is large but sparsely inhabited, with only 3mln people. It is still a developing country with one, fast-growing city and large areas where nature remains pristine and inhabitants are scarce. Because of sparse air connections and a not-very-developed infrastructure, Mongolia is hard to get to but is definitely worth visiting, as you will see when you read about it.

How to get there? Probably the best option for reaching Mongolia by air is to fly to its capital, Ulaanbaatar. Only a few cities with international airports have direct flights to Ulaanbatar, including Moscow, Seoul, Berlin, Tokyo, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Frankfurt. Most travelers will have to make connections through one of these airports.

What to see?

Ulaanbaatar: This is Mongolia's capital city and its largest city, and the most urbanized place in the country. Half of Mongolia's population is situated in Ulaanbaatar. The city is an interesting combination of communist architecture and modern streets, malls, and commercial buildings. In Ulaanbaatar you will see a lot of soviet-style concrete boxes that serve both as residential buildings and as headquarters for various institutions or organizations. You will also see a lot of new, modern, high-rise buildings that went up in the last 5-15 years when foreign investment started to pour in and local businesses began to expand. There are few modern avenues and shopping and pedestrian areas, and they are mostly crowded with younger people. There are good coffee shops and bars, and the price of clothing is so reasonable that you can relax while shopping. Traffic in Ulaanbaatar exhibits a big contrast of the undeveloped past with the economically stable present and the hope for better future. Old, faded cars are ubiquitous, and they share the roads with old and new buses, bicycles, and a scattering of expensive new cars. Traffic is a bit crazy and chaotic, so you must take care, especially if you are a pedestrian. Despite strict laws, many people still drive carelessly if policemen are not watching.

The most important sight in the Mongolian capital is Genghis Khan Square, which is located in the city center and is one of the largest squares in Asia. There are two large statues of two of the most important Mongolian heroes. One of them is of course Genghis Khan, who lived in the 12th and 13th centuries and was famous for uniting the Mongolian tribes and starting a campaign to conquer the world. The large Mongol Empire fell apart quickly, but it exercised a large influence on other countries by breaking up four powerful states. Many people take pictures here of one of the most famous conqueror in world history. There is also a statue of another Mongolian hero, Damdin Sukhbaatar, who founded the Mongol People's Party in 1921 and fought for Mongolian sovereignty over a large territory between Russia and China. Later, his party established the Mongolian People's Republic, which existed until 1990. On the square there is also an interesting parliament building that shines at night in blue and yellow colors.

Another interesting sight in Ulaanbaatar is the Fine Arts Museum. Here you can find items that date from as far back as the Stone Age. Also there are many Buddhist sculptures and paintings. Particularly notable are the works of Zanabazar, a famous Mongolian painter and sculptor who lived in the 17th and 18th centuries. His most famous works include "White Tara", "Bodhi Stupas", and "Diyani Buddhas". The entrance fee is 1.9eur. Another important historical complex is the Bogd Khan Palace Museum, in a beautiful palace built in 1893 in the Chinese style. There resided Bogd Khan, the ruler who declared Mongolia's independence from China, in 1911. There are five shrines within the complex and many statues, and there are the spacious apartments of Bogd Khan and his reception hall. You can see his throne, bed, and other possessions such as robes and decorations that he wore during ceremonies. Also there are the jeweled regalia that his pet elephant wore. There is also a pair of boots worn by Nicholas II, the last Russian Emperor, during his visit to Bogd Khan. The entrance fee is only 3 euro.

Gandan Monastery is another place that you must visit in Ulaanbaatar. It is the largest monastery in the capital, and it dates from the 18th century. Gandan belongs to the Tibetan School of Buddhism, which is one of the most respected religions in Mongolia. The Monastery is always crowded, so it is best to visit early in the morning and watch the monks perform chants and other rituals. There are many Buddhist statues and frescoes in the Monastery's Tibetan-style halls. The most famous statue is a Tibetan version of Avalokitesvara, the important Buddhist deity of compassion. The statue is 26m tall.

The Mongolian Countryside: Open country stretches to the horizon almost everywhere outside the capital city since most of Mongolia's territory is a never-ending grassland. Mongolia is uniquely one of best-preserved natural sites in the world where a traditional lifestyle prevails. Since the county isn't very well connected to the outside world because of poor infrastructure, it is best to rely on a hotel receptionist to arrange a tour of the countryside. Mongolia's most beautiful valleys are located along the Orkhon River. Traditional ethno villages lie within a two hour drive of Ulaanbaatar, and a two day tour may cost only 60eur. Most of the roads are unpaved. A typical Mongolian village is composed only of few yurts perched on the grass. Yurts are traditional tents composed of wooden beams and felt layers (a type of textile). They are simple, since most of the peasants still live as nomads. Mongolia is one of last countries that has authentic nomads who have lived thousands of years in the same way. A typical village has only 50-60 residents who move on horseback every few months to new locations and take their yurts with them. Stand for a moment and enjoy taking a deep breath of fresh air and looking around. Wherever you look, you will see never-ending grasslands, and above you a pure, azure sky.

The Mongolians move about on horseback, which is the only traditional means of travel in the country. In distance it seems that green grassland and blue sky touch each other. You will see countless pasturelands, most of them empty, some of them with a few yurts, sheep, and horses. Imagine that the next settlement is hundreds of kilometers away. You will see people wearing colorful traditional clothes. People are very friendly here, and they will offer you souvenirs or a horse ride. Ride a horse for several kilometers around and imagine yourself being in a time long past, and feel like a real nomad. While riding, you can see animals such as yaks, foxes, vultures, hawks, eagles, deer, and snow leopards. Snow leopards do not attack humans as they are only a bit bigger than wild cats, but don't come too close since they can be frightened and can become aggressive. Horses are the most valuable animals in Mongolia since they are a means of transport, a source of milk, a source of meat, and a participant in games. It is possible to see horse races and polo games.

Mongolian wrestling is also performed in the countryside, reminding visitors of Japanese sumo. If you are brave enough, you can ask wrestlers to join them in one of the rounds and try your luck. You can also take part in falcon hunting, which is the traditional way of hunting in Mongolia. People travel the grasslands with trained falcons and let them catch animals, and after they catch animals they bring them back to you.

Food, Food, and Food: Mongol cuisine is very hearty, meat-based, with a lot of fats, dairy products, and few vegetables. There are a lot of good, inexpensive restaurants in Ulaanbaatar. You can start your meal with noodle soup and steamed dumplings filled with meat and vegetables. Lamb skewers are widely eaten. Also stewed lamb with various vegetables is a good option. For only 4eur you can get a large portion that will be hard for you to finish. After a meal you can try salted tea with condensed milk.

When you find yourself in a village, lunch may be arranged by your tour company, and the villagers may make you special rural dishes as part of the tour. Rural cuisine is very simple and even fattier than the cooking in Ulaanbaatar. Lamb cooked over a fire is commonly eaten, often without any seasoning or accompanying vegetables. Pieces of lamb, horse, and marmot meat can be grilled on heated stones and eaten with vegetables. This style of preparation is called khorkhog. Kumis is the most common beverage in the villages. Kumis is fermented yoghurt made from horse milk. It is traditionally made in a simple manner – milk is taken from a horse and put in a metal container and left in the hot sun until it ferments. It is so sour, dense, and heavy that you shouldn't get carried away and drink too much of it.

Nightlife: You must experience nightlife in Ulaanbaatar and also in the countryside, since comparing the two is comparing the Mongolia of the 15th century with the 21st. In Ulaanbaatar, nightlife is very vibrant, and there are many options. There are many pubs and clubs in the city center that are frequently visited by young people. Pubs and clubs are very modern, beautifully designed, and stay open until late in the night. Most Mongolian young people are communicative and speak good English and Russian, so it won't be a problem to socialize with them. You can try excellent draught beer for only about 1.7eur. Also there is a popular beverage – Genghis vodka – which got its name from Genghis Khan. In the countryside the story is different – there is no electricity, and people gather around the fire to talk, watch shamanic rituals, and sing. Everything beyond the towns is dark except for thousands of stars and the moon. The villages still have shamans who are dressed in colorful clothes and pray to the spirits of fire, stone, and air with special chants. Be silent during shamanic ceremonies and do not interrupt or offend people. People also sing humi, a special traditional form of throat singing. It is very mysterious, unusual, and a bit scary. In the villages it may be harder to talk to people since most of them are illiterate, so it is best to ask the tour guide to mediate between you and the villagers. Here you can try special fermented milk with alcohol which is very strong – around 50-60%. You can ask about their traditions, beliefs, and ancient legends. Don't take too many pictures of the nomads since they may find it to be insulting.

Accommodation: There are a lot of budget hotels in Ulaanbaatar that are clean and reliable. A room with a double bed usually costs 25eur per night. In the countryside, a night in a yurt may cost 15 euro.

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