Myanmar: When The General Speaks You Still Jump


August 20, 2013: In the last week the three month old peace deal with Kachin rebels broke down as Kachin rebels fought with pro-government Kachin militias. There were several clashes and peace has not yet been restored. These outbreaks may have been caused by feuds within the Kachin community. Back in May peace talks with the Kachin tribal rebels finally succeeded with both sides agreeing to end two years of renewed fighting. The Kachin had ended a 17 year truce with the government in 2011 because the Chinese economic projects in tribal areas were causing major problems for the tribal peoples. The Chinese had found it more productive to work in the shadows, where bribes and threats could be used more effectively. This favored the ethnic Burmese and screwed the tribes. China tried to ignore the tribal unrest in northern Burma so that Chinese economic projects (hydroelectric dams, mines and pipelines) could proceed. This did not work once the Kachin rebelled again. The subsequent fighting caused thousands of casualties and over 100,000 refugees. The peace deal is meant to handle tribal complaints and allow some of the Chinese projects to go forward. This is a triumph of hope over experience as the ethnic Burmese and Chinese tend to stick it to the tribes eventually. The government insists it won’t go that way this time because of the new democratic government in Burma and the ability of world media to watch what happens in the tribal areas.

The government has reached an agreement on new trade deals with China. This is important for the economy, as China is the strongest economic force in the region and a neighbor. China wants to develop northern Burma but the people living up there (including some tribes that are ethnic cousins of the Chinese) are not so sure that will work for them. The corruption of the ethnic Burmese politicians down south tends to create situations where everyone does well except the people of the north. This is no secret up north and the main reason why the fighting continues up there. Meanwhile, China invests in the south as well, and most of the foreign tourists are now from China.

Despite increasing foreign pressure, the government refuses to suppress radical Buddhist groups. Radical Buddhists back restrictions on Moslems in Burma and accuse Moslems of being intolerant and supporters of terrorism. Most Burmese appear to agree with this and that has led to more violence between Buddhists and Moslems. Many of the attacks were directed at Moslem religious schools, which tend to produce Islamic terrorists wherever they operate.

August 16, 2013: Just across the Indian border an Indian Army convoy was attacked by a remote control bomb. There were no injuries, although some vehicles were damaged. The Indians believe this was the result of Indian tribal rebels reacting against Indian efforts to shut down rebel camps in Burma. Recently India has shut the border crossings to Burma or opened them only with intensive searches. The Burmese government has agreed to crack down on Indian rebels hiding in Burma but has not assigned a lot of personnel to search for those camps.

August 15, 2013: In parliament a debate on charges that corrupt army officers were stealing lands from tribes in the north was halted when one legislator, a retired general, forcefully suggested that parliament move on to a new topic. Decades of military dictatorship and military-backed terror has left most Burmese still somewhat wary around military officers, and in this case the majority of the legislators agreed to shut down the discussion about corrupt officers stealing land.

August 9, 2013: Violence between the Moslem Rohingya and police continues along the west coast. Today hundreds of Moslem refugees attacked police camps and the police used gunfire to defend themselves. One refugee was killed and ten wounded before calm was restored. The refugees are angry over the hostile reception they have received in Burma. Since last June nearly 200 people (mostly Rohingya) have died in ethnic and religious violence in Rakhine State, which has a population of 3.8 million, with about 800,000 of them Moslems, mostly Rohingyas. These are Bengalis, or people from Bengal (now Bangladesh) who began migrating to Burma during the 19th century. At that time the British colonial government ran Bangladesh and Burma and allowed this movement, even though the Buddhist Burmese opposed it. Britain recognized the problem too late, and the Bengali Moslems were still in Burma when Britain gave up its South Asian colonies after World War II (1939-45). The current violence has caused over 100,000 Rohingya to flee their homes, many of them seeking shelter in Thailand, Bangladesh, and Malaysia. The Rohingya say the government is starving those in refugee camps and not punishing local Buddhists who attack Moslems.

August 6, 2013: In the north police raided a Buddhist monastery and beat monks found there in an effort to encourage the monks to move their monastery and make way for a Chinese copper mine.

August 5, 2013: The government and a southern (non-tribal) rebel groups signed a peace deal. The ABSDF (All-Burma Students’ Democratic Front) have been fighting the government since the 1980s, but after the military dictatorship stepped aside and allowed elections two years ago, many of these rebels decided it was time to make a deal.

August 1, 2013: In Thailand police arrested a Burmese man and accused him of running a smuggling operation that took money from Rohingya refugees in Burma to get them to Moslem majority Malaysia (right across the border from southern Thailand). Instead the smugglers sold several hundred Rohingya into slavery (as crew on Thai fishing boats). Technically, the Rohingya were “employees” on the fishing boats but in practice they were held against their will and paid nothing.  


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