July 5, 2010: The military dictatorship appears determined to establish a "controlled" democracy with the October elections. Thus the recently announced rules, that forbid chanting or marching by political parties. Even with restrictions like these, it's quite possible that the generals will lose. It's believed that their Plan B involves simply reporting different results, which will put their candidates in office, and keep them there. But even scarier than elections is the fact that half the population is 18 or younger, and are aware of the outside world, and that life in Burma sucks by comparison. For the moment, the government doesn't care what the kids think. The government also doesn't seem to care that most of the world considers the October elections a sham. What is important is that most of Burma's neighbors, and nations in the region, will recognize the elections.
The military maintains power by controlling information. For example, cell phone use is restricted to the wealthy or well connected (government officials and friends.) Another 130,000 cell phone accounts will be allowed by the end of the year, bringing the total up to 600,000 (for 30 million adults in the country). Tower coverage is restricted to a few urban areas. There are only two million landline phones, and these are regulated as well.
Ethnic Chinese tribesmen (the United Wa Army) living near the Chinese border, are again at peace with the government. But this is only a truce. The government wants the Wa to integrate their 30,000 man army with the Burmese armed forces. The Wa don't trust the Burmese government, and refuse to do this. An army offensive last year sent nearly 40,000 Wa refugees into China. The Chinese did not like this, and was not able to control the news (of ethnic Chinese being "oppressed" by Burmese troops). This details got out via the Internet and people texting each other. This caused a popular uproar in China, forcing the government to lean on Burma and ease up attacks on the Wa people. Then, some senior Chinese officials visited Burma to work out these problems. China considers Burma a valuable ally and client state. As a political outcast to most of the world, Burma needs this Chinese support. The informal ceasefire between the Wa and the Burmese troops was extended indefinitely, and government officials, and services, returned to Wa territory. But fighting could break out again at any time.
Government efforts to reduce opium and heroin (chemically refined opium) production have had some success, with opium production down twenty percent (to 330 tons) in the last year. But production of methamphetamine is soaring. Called "yaba" ("crazy drug") locally, most of it is smuggled out via Thailand. Last year, 23 million yaba tablets were seized by border police, compared to one million in 2008. It's believed that less than ten percent of the methamphetamine tablets are seized. The meth labs are easier to conceal than poppy fields (opium is the sap of poppy plants) and these labs are expected to produce over 300 million tablets this year. The Wa use the profits to buy more weapons for their army, and run their own government.
Indications are that the North Korean ship that delivered a mysterious cargo four months ago, was carrying air defense radars (which are now being placed on hills up north) and ballistic missile manufacturing equipment. Dozens of North Korean technicians have entered the country in the last few months, and have been seen working at a military facility outside Mandalay. It's unclear what this is for. Burma has no external enemies, and ballistic missiles are of no use against internal opposition. Burma is believed to signed a secret military deal with North Korea two years ago. The details of that arrangement are unknown, but something is up.
June 17, 2010: Chinese weapons manufacturer Norinco has signed a deal to build a copper mining complex in Burma. Copper is an essential material for manufacturing most types of ammunition. Norinco is a major ammo manufacturer.