Myanmar: You Get By With A Little Help From Your Neighbors


August 10, 2010: India and Thailand, the two most powerful neighbors of Burma, have made deals with the generals who have run the Burmese dictatorship for decades. Indian and Thai leaders consider this pragmatic recognition that the generals are in charge, and will probably remain so for some time to come.

Distant North Korea is providing help in upgrading the Burmese military and security forces. North Korea is expert at running a police state. For reasons unclear, North Korea appears to be helping Burma build nuclear weapons. Neighboring China freely sells Burma weapons for the military and police. Russian officials have revealed that over 4,000 Burmese officers have gone to Russia over the last decade to receive training in nuclear medicine and other aspects of nuclear power or weapons.

Only four percent of Burmese have access to telephones, which are a primary means for communicating long distances. The government does not want telephones to be available to potential opponents. It's believed that there are about 1.2 million cell phone users, with service in 80 towns in cities, mainly in the south. Cell phones can only be obtained by people who are believed loyal to the government, and the phones are assumed to be tapped. There are now more cell phones than land lines (under 800,000). As has been discovered in most of the world, it's cheaper to install cell phone service.

While the government has made peace (via threats and bribes) with most Karen tribal rebel leaders, a few have not really gone along. One Karen unit, the 5th Brigade, is known as still hostile to the government. The army has been ordered to hunt down and destroy the 5th Brigade, but this effort has so far not been successful.

The government has kept a major border crossing with Thailand closed since July 18th, because the Thais are accused of putting up a building that has changed the flow of a river to Burma's disadvantage. This closure is costing Thailand over $2 million a day and keeping thousands of Burmese from their jobs in Thailand. The Burmese refuse to negotiate, it must be their way or nothing. But despite this dispute, the two countries are extending their deal to sell Burmese natural gas to Thailand. Burma needs the money, and Thai needs the energy.

August 6, 2010:  A bomb went off in Myawaddy, a town on the Thai border. Two died and eight were wounded.

August 5, 2010:  In the north, an army general driving to a meeting with tribal military commanders, was ambushed by men loyal to a tribal commander still hostile to any cooperation with the government. Several of the soldiers were wounded and the three vehicles shot up. This was obvious when the vehicles arrived at their destination. The government denied that the attack took place. They also deny that the army is again rampaging through Karen territory in the north, burning villages and driving more Karen into Thailand as refugees.

August 2, 2010: In the first seven months of the year, land mines, mostly placed by tribal rebels, killed six and wounded about fifty.

July 26, 2010: India and Burma have signed five agreements, covering trade, Indian economic assistance and cooperation in criminal matters (both nations will assist in tracking down each other's rebels). Senior Burmese officials visited India, to great fanfare, to seal the deals.



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