In the tribal north the three year peace effort between the government and NCCT (Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team) continues to make slow progress. The creation of NCCT brought together sixteen tribal rebel militias and several others that associated themselves with the peace effort but not as members of NCCT. All this unity and optimism was triggered by the return of democracy in 2011. This despite the fact that the country continues to have problems shaking off the influence of the military officers who have run the country from 1962 to 2011. Military rule may be gone but military influence is still very strong and that is the cause of most of the remaining tension and violence in the north. The military still controls (via corruption or coercion) the government bureaucracy, especially the courts, police and, of course, the military. This enables the generals to hit back hard at opponents and keep the army fighting uncooperative tribes up north. The courts regularly rule against tribes that bring lawsuits against illegal land grabs and similar misbehavior (by military owned or backed companies) in the north. Meanwhile the anti-Moslem paranoia of the Buddhist clergy is largely left alone. The generals know that the continuing attention Islamic terrorist atrocities get in the international media makes it difficult for sufficient international pressure to build against Burma for bad treatment of the Moslem minority in Burma. As for the tribal unrest, NCCT has worked out some arrangements that have brought peace to much of the north. But there are still areas where corrupt southerners and their military and Chinese allies need some military muscle to deal with armed and angry tribesmen. Despite this NCCT shows that the tribes are confident trends are on their side and against the former military rulers and their allies.
Some aspects of life in the north that anger the tribes will be very hard to change. The main one is all the illegal industries that export to China. This involves lumber, gems and other raw materials as well as illegal drugs. This trade is believed to be worth more than the $3.4 billion a year in legitimate exports and most of the cash flows through semi-legal Burmese banks on the Chinese border. China has strict controls on moving cash (no more than $50,000 a year per person) in or out. No such rules in Burma and it’s much easier to open bank accounts in Burma. Chinese banking officials estimate that legal and illegal cash flows from China to Burma are over $30 billion a year. While most of the cash flow is out of China (to pay for the illegal and legal imports and investments in Burma) little of the money stays in the north. Much of the illegal cash is laundered and moved to other parts of the world considered safer for questionable cash. If all the illegal business in the north were legitimate more of the money would stay in the north. That is not going to happen anytime soon. The illegal drugs (mostly meth and heroin) are not going to be legalized and the other raw materials are protected by powerful (and violence prone) groups in Burma.
September 22, 2014: Bowing to international pressure the government granted citizenship to 209 Rohingya Moslems. Five times as many Rohingya took part in the screening process but were rejected because they did not have the required documents to prove that their families had lived in Burma for generations. The UN, the United States and most Moslem countries have been pressuring Burma to make the Rohingya in Burma citizens. This would, according to the foreign critics, halt the violence between Moslems and Buddhists in Burma. That’s unlikely as far as the Burmese are concerned. The Burmese also point out that the problem of countries refusing to grant citizenship to a minority is an old one that is not easily solved. The most notorious example of this is found in Arab nations where it is quite common. The most troublesome example is the Palestinians, who are refused citizenship in most Arab countries. This citizenship for migrants issue is less of a problem in Western nations and a few Middle Eastern ones (like Israel and Jordan) but is not really an anti-Palestinian effort as much as it is the continuation of an ancient practice which are common in eastern Asia and Europe as well. Burma long refused to even consider making the Rohingya Burmese citizens, despite the fact that most Rohingya have lived in Burma for over a century. Some Rohingya still have kin back in Bangladesh but tend to consider themselves Burmese. Meanwhile there is growing popular anger among Burmese towards Moslems in general and the Rohingya in particular. This is fed by the continuing reports of Islamic terrorism word-wide and especially in the region (Thailand, India, Bangladesh and China). The wealthy Arab oil states have put their considerable diplomatic and economic pressure on the UN to make a fuss but the Burmese generals long insisted that this could be safely ignored as they have been ignoring UN criticism for over half a century and getting away with it. The Arabs don’t get a lot of sympathy outside the Moslem world because anyone who can count notes that there is a lot more oppression and violence against non-Moslems by Moslems than the other way around. As more Western nations joined in with the demands for granting citizenship for Rohingya the government decided to make a gesture.
September 18, 2014: In the north (Shan state) a bomb went off in front of the home of a local politician. A brother-in-law of the politician was the only casualty when he was wounded by some of the bomb fragments. Police suspect that the politician’s work trying to protect local farmers from greedy and corrupt southerners may have been behind the bombing. Crusading politicians are something the old military dictatorship never had to deal with and the former military rulers are not comfortable with this sort of attention, especially in the north. Since military rule ended in 2011 bombings like this, and other types of violence by parties unknown have become common.
September 11, 2014: In the northwest (Rakhine state) the government lifted a curfew that was imposed in mid-2012 when anti-Rohingya violence began in the area.
September 9, 2014: In the north (Karen state) a group of soldiers moved into territory controlled by Karen tribal rebels and were fired on. One soldier died and the troops retreated. The rebels involved belong to the KNU (Karen National Union) which is trying to work out a peace deal with the government. The rebel unit involved was the 5th Brigade of the KNLA (Karen National Liberation Army). This is the strongest brigade in the KNLA with some 3,000 armed men and strong enough to handle most anything the army can throw at them. Locals report that some clashes with troops are not reported, even when the soldiers are at fault (and themselves inclined to keep quiet about it), in order to keep the peace talks going. This has been difficult and the Karen have often been at odds with the other tribal groups in the north over negotiating goals and methods.
September 4, 2014: A recently released survey (Global Competitiveness Report 2014-15) ranked Burma 134th out of 148 countries. Each nation was scored on how well it did in areas like education, government effectiveness, technology, market efficiency, infrastructure and acceptance of innovation. Corruption, more than anything else, is what harms global competiveness and Burma still has a lot of corruption. There is also a very poor educational system and inadequate infrastructure. Nearby nations do much better in these worldwide rankings. Singapore is number 2, Japan 6, Hong Kong 7, Taiwan 14, Malaysia 20, China 28, Thailand 31 and India 71. So it’s not the neighborhood, it is internal problems that the Burmese have to fix.
September 3, 2014: Al Qaeda released a 55 minute video in which leader Ayman al Zawahiri announced the formation of the new AQIS (Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent). The U.S. believes the Pakistani ISI (military intelligence/CIA) is still protecting al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan and is behind the latest al Qaeda announcement about a branch inside India. The U.S. believes this is being done at the request of the ISI and will be staffed with Pakistani Islamic terrorists controlled (or at least trained) by the ISI. Al Qaeda noted that AQIS would also be active in Burma to fight for oppressed Moslems like the Rohingya. Over the next few days all the major Burmese Moslem leaders and clerics condemned AQIS and said they wanted nothing to do with it. AQIS will appeal to some young Moslem men, but Burma has never been a tolerant or hospitable environment for Islamic terrorists and creating AQIS is not likely to change that.
September 1, 2014: New laws in Saudi Arabia prohibit Saudi men from marrying women from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Chad and Burma. These are apparently the countries where most of the female sex slaves come from. According to official data there are currently 500,000 women from these four countries in Saudi Arabia. There are currently 8.1 million foreigners living in Saudi Arabia (about 30 percent of the population). Many of the women from these four banned countries are apparently imported to be sex slaves via short term “marriages”. The Saudis imposed new rules on marriage in general and how old you had to be before taking a second wife or marrying a foreigner.
August 28, 2014: The results of the census conducted earlier in the year (March and April) were released and showed that Burma had 15 percent fewer people than earlier estimated. The new population number is 51 million. The shortfall is attributed to earlier use of birth rates that were too high. But at least a quarter of the missing nine million people are due to Moslems and tribal peoples refusing to be counted for various reasons.