Myanmar: Greed For Speed

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February 14, 2010:  One reason the dictatorship has lasted so long has been the battle with the ethnic minorities in the north. Even before the generals took over half a century ago, the country was split on how the north should be governed. The tribal minorities, that make up a third of the population, and occupy the northern two-thirds of the country, were never part of Burma before the country was formed in 1947. Britain, which had formerly administered the tribal territories separately, allowed the majority Burmese and the tribals to form a "Union of Burma", on the Burmese promise that the tribals would have autonomy. The Burmese reneged, and the fighting has been going on every since. The Burmese have more people, money, technology, weapons and unity, but not enough to crush tribal resistance. It's a forever war.

While the heroin trade was all but eliminated in the north by the 1990s, drug production was not destroyed. Many of the tribal drug gangs switched to methamphetamines. This stuff proved easier to produce (if you had the right chemicals, which turned out to be available from China), and more profitable. The tribes need the drug money to buy weapons, and bribe Burmese officials, in order to maintain some semblance of tribal independence. The generals keep ordering the troops and bureaucrats to crush tribal independence, but for decades, drug money has proved to be the most potent weapon the tribes could muster. Methamphetamines are big business. Last month alone, Thai police seized four million methamphetamine pills being smuggled in from Burma. The meth shows up in China, India, Bangladesh and more distant markets. The government is said to be allowing allied tribes to get back into the heroin business, to keep them away from meth, but there is no evidence of significant heroin moving out of northern Burma, nor any big increases in opium (the raw material for heroin) addiction up north (where drug addiction has long been a problem.)

The Burmese generals don’t have to worry about the UN, or foreign criticism in general. Two pipelines (one for oil, one for natural gas) guarantee that. The pipelines are being built by China, to transport Burmese gas and oil to China within two years. The profits will keep the generals in business, and the Chinese will do their part by vetoing any more UN moves against the generals. Foreign trade at work.

February 13, 2010: Malaysian police arrested 15 Burmese drug dealers, who were operating along the coast, pretending to be fishermen, and selling to small amounts of heroin, and other drugs, to Malaysians. The drug dealers from Myanmar were caught several hundred kilometers south of the Burmese border.

February 11, 2010: In Bangladesh, eight Burmese were arrested on their boat and charged with spying. The arrested had cameras with pictures of Bangladeshi warships and naval bases. Also found were incriminating documents. Myanmar and Bangladesh still have unresolved disputes over where their maritime borders.

February 9, 2010: Riot police were sent to two clothing factories outside Rangoon (Yangon, the largest city in the country). The government doesn't allow strikes, and is quick to crush any dissent, lest it get out of hand and lead to widespread demonstrations (as it does every few years.) Five years ago, the generals moved all major government functions to a new city, 300 kilometers north of Rangoon, to prevent an urban uprising from disrupting the military government.

February 7, 2010: Two infantry battalions continue to operate near the Thai border, forcing several thousand Karen tribals from their villages. These tactics have been used for decades, to disrupt the activities of armed Karens, who resist control by the military dictatorship down south. The Karens don't consider themselves Burmese, and have resisted Burmese control for centuries.

February 5, 2010: Thailand halted the forced repatriation of Karen refugees from Burma. It became obvious that Burmese soldiers would kill some of the returning refugees, which caused the Thais to halt their effort to return Karens who fled to Thailand last Summer.

February 2, 2010: Internet access in the country slowed to a crawl for several days, apparently because the only two providers of Internet access (one a government outfit, the other one owned by a government supporter) were rearranging their hardware. The government denied that there was any problems with Internet access.

January 26, 2010: Two bombs went off in the central Burma town of Kyaukkyi (170 kilometers northeast of Rangoon). There were no injuries, only property damage. No one took credit for the bombings, and the government later arrested eleven suspects, who were accused of planning attacks in Rangoon.

January 21, 2010: An air force F-7 (Chinese MiG-21 clone) jet fighter crashed on landing, killing the pilot. Last month, the air force ordered more MiG-29s from Russia, and apparently plans to retire its fifty or so F-7s. There are only about a dozen MiG-29s in service, and it will take several years to obtain the new aircraft, train the pilots for three dozen or so MiG-29s, to replace all the F-7s.

 

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