Myanmar: Yet Another Tribal Rebellion


June 16, 2011: The fighting in northern Kachin State has spread, as the army tries to catch up with the armed rebels. Thousands of civilians have fled their homes to escape the army troops (who tend to treat tribal civilians badly.) The army was mostly concerned with recapturing dams and hydroelectric facilities seized by the tribal rebels, and freeing Chinese workers. This kept the troops busy for about a week. The fighting has caused over a hundred casualties so far. As usual, the tribal rebels do not confront the more heavily armed soldiers directly. The soldiers, in turn, often use their artillery against tribal villages.

Although the army is a major source of jobs in Burma, most of the troops have voted, when they had the opportunity, against the military dictatorship. The troops did so during the 1990 elections (which the generals rejected) and the more recent ones (which the generals managed, and accepted.) Decades of military rule have caused the poverty, but has also created a pretty effective police state that has made rebellion difficult.

June 9, 2011:  Violence broke out in northern Kachin State. This was expected. As a result of last November's elections, six tribal armies from among the Karenni, Chin, Kachin, Mon and Shan people in the north formed a defensive union. The tribes believe they would be attacked once the voting was over, and they were sort of correct. The tribesmen know the new "democracy" is a sham, and just the same old military dictatorship in new clothes. The new anti-government alliance has gone further and attacked the heroin operations of pro-government tribes. The growing (or returning) heroin trade is also a source of income for the government, and the government is unhappy with these losses. To make matters worse, some of the heroin producing operations are now paying the tribal rebels for protection. Meanwhile, the government destroys poppy fields belonging to hostile tribes. Overall, since 1996, opium and heroin production has declined nearly 90 percent in Myanmar, but has been making a comeback the last few years. The government has encouraged some tribes to switch sides, and oppose the rebel tribes, by giving them permission to grow poppies (which produces opium and, with a chemical transformation, heroin).

 The current violence was triggered at anger with economic deals with China, especially the building of dams, using mostly Chinese labor.  The new violence has caused over a hundred Chinese workers to go back to China. Kachin gunmen destroyed three bridges in neighboring Shan State, which the army depended on for mobility.  Larger (150,000 square kilometers and nearly five million people) Shan state is south of Karchin State, and border China and Thailand.

Kachin State is thinly populated (1.2 million people in 89,000 square kilometers of hills and forests.) Most of the people in Kachin are the ethnic Chinese, and over 100,000 Kachins live across the border in China. Most of the people in Shan are also ethnic Chinese tribes. These tribes have never gotten along with the ethnic Burmese to the south. The Burmese are more distantly related to the Han Chinese (20 percent of the world population), but consider themselves quite distinct. The Chinese border area is, for China, a very distant and isolated part of China. For a long time, the Chinese government paid little attention to the Kachin. Now, however, Burma is a growing trading partner, and China has economic interests (roads and hydroelectric dams) in Kachin State.

In response to the North Korean cargo ship prevented, by an American warship from reaching Burma, the Burmese government denied that it was trying to develop nuclear weapons. The government points out that it is too poor for that sort of thing. But Burma is also poor enough to seek cheap non-nuclear weapons from North Korea.  Burma has been obtaining such stuff from China as well.

Police have arrested Karen men believed responsible for the May 19 train bombing that killed two. Police blamed Karen rebels for the attack.

June 8, 2011:  Kachen rebels captured three Burmese soldiers who were manning a guard post near a Chinese built dam near the Chinese border. The army gathered more troops and went looking for the rebels. But it was a large force of rebels, and they were ready for a fight.

May 31, 2011: The new Burmese president completed a three day official visit to China, who is the new best friend forever for Burma.

May 30, 2011: Violence has broken out in Kayin State (30,000 square kilometers and 1.4 million mainly tribal people), to the south of Shan State and bordering Thailand. Karen tribesmen serving in a border guard battalion have mutinied and rejoined the rebels.  The Karen border guards had made peace with the government last year and were given jobs in the security forces last year.  But the Karen troops did not like fighting other Karen who were still rebels.

May 26, 2011:  a U.S. Navy destroyer intercepted a North Korean cargo ship, apparently carrying weapons and headed for Burma, and, after several days of stand-off at sea, caused the cargo ship to turn around and return to North Korea.  The North Korean crew refused to allow the American sailors to search, and the U.S. destroyer captain was told not to use force, lest the North Koreans put up an armed resistance and trigger more violence in Korea. But the North Koreans did back off.


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