Myanmar: Chinese Gangsters Gone Wild


May 20, 2019: In Bangladesh, the UN began issuing ID cards to Rohingya refugees in mid-2018, and so far have issued the IDs to about a third of the 740,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. These IDs make it easier for Rohingya to return to Burma because the ID is proof that they were pushed out of Burma by the army and vigilantes in the first place. But few Rohingya are going back, even with the ID card. Their homeland in northern Burma (Rakhine state) is still too dangerous for any Rohingya. The Burmese government is being threatened with sanctions but army dominated government is not impressed. The military knows that China is eager to be Burma’s main ally, to the exclusion of Western nations. India still works with Burma, to deal with tribal rebels who operate along their common border. Thailand is another neighbor not bothered by the Rohingya situation.

The government has other problems in the north, mainly the continued feuding between some rival rebel groups. The army recently arranged a truce between SSA-S (Shan State Army-South) and SSA-N (Shan State Army-North). These two groups have a lot in common but have been fighting over disagreements over how to interpret the terms of the NCA (National Ceasefire Agreement) the SSA-S signed in 2015. The army and tribes often do not agree on details of ceasefire or peace deals and fighting resumes.

The Chinese continue to have problems up north. China has a lot of legal and illegal operations in northern Burma and many of these run into trouble with the Burmese government or the locals (or both). The Chinese operating commercial (rather than Chinese government) enterprises in northern Burma (Kachin and Shan states) are a major source of complaints. There seems to be no end of illegal schemes the Chinese come up with that profit at the expense of Burmese. Some of the more recent rackets involve illegal casinos and distributing drugs (as well as getting the drugs into China). Then there are the people traffickers who entice or kidnap Burmese women to China and sell them to Chinese men to be wives. There a growing shortage of Chinese women that has created a market for young foreign women. China's "one child" policy of the last few decades, and the ability to determine the sex of the child before birth, led to more (20 percent more) boys than girls being born in China. There's a growing shortage of potential brides, and desperate Chinese men are willing to buy a kidnapped tribal girl from northern Burma (or anywhere else). Some of the Chinese criminal gangs have become ambitious, bringing more than a hundred of their Chinese members into northern Burma to run these operations. That also offends Burmese as the Chinese almost always bring in their own labor force to build Chinese financed projects. Annoying so many Burmese has consequences as many Burmese are willing to tip off the police about what Chinese gangsters are up to. The Chinese will try to bribe the police but for major police operations that is often impossible (or simply too expensive).

May 19, 2019: In the northwest (Rakhine state), across the border in Bangladesh police are still encountering people smuggling operations that offer to get Burmese Rohingya living in a refugee camp the opportunity to get out of Bangladesh and to more “refugee friendly” countries like Malaysia, where, if the Rohingya can pay for it, the people smugglers will get them to Indonesia or Western countries. Australia used to be a favorite (and expensive) destination but the Australians have cracked down on the people smugglers and their clients in a big way over the last decade. Thailand has also become very hostile to Rohingya refugees and their gangster guides. Bangladesh police now pay more attention to local fishing boats and catch many of the people smugglers who buy or rent fishing boats and then put fifty or more Rohingya on them and make for Malaysia. The Rohingya often spend their life savings and just about all the cash they have to the people smugglers and there are no refunds if the police interfere. The people smuggling gangs lose a boat and some low-level employees but still make money and there are more and more Rohingya willing to pay the price for a chance of escaping long-term stays in Bangladesh refugee camps.

May 17, 2019: In the northwest (Sagaing Region, west of Kachin State), troops moved to the Indian border area to search for camps established by Indian Naga rebels. The Sagaing region has long been used as a refuge for Indian rebels but this year Indian and Burmese forces have been coordinating efforts to shut down the border camps for good, or at least for a long time. In March Indian and Burmese swept both sides of the border for weeks but later discovered that, while this hurt the Naga rebels it did not destroy the rebel groups, who returned to the border area once the troops had ceased their activity. This time the Burmese troops are going to patrol the area for several months, or as long as it takes for India to certify that the Naga rebels have suffered serious and long-term damage. Indian troops will also be active on their side of the border to ensure that the Naga rebels, both the Indian and Burmese ones, have nowhere to go and that situation will last so long (several months) that many of rebels will desert and return to their villages. Other rebel groups will be cornered by Indian or Burmese troops and destroyed.

Most of the Naga people are Indian but some live in the Burmese far north Sagaing Region and belong to the NSCN (National Socialist Council of Nagaland) which wants to form an independent Nagaland including Indian and Burmese territory and Naga people from both countries. Many of the camps being sought in Sagaing belong to the NSCN-K faction of the NSCN. At the start of 2019 there were believed to be about 5,000 active rebels in NSCN with about ten percent of them Burmese Naga. This new operation seeks to reduce the size of NSCN by a significant amount. How much damage will be done won’t be known until the end of 2019. These operations are not just going after the NSCN but also smaller groups like the Ulfa-I, NDFB and Manipur rebels.

The Naga are actually about two million people from a collection of tribes that share many ethnic (Burma-Tibetan) characteristics and traditions. About ten percent of the Naga live in Burma but most of the rebel violence occurs in Indian Nagaland. For years the Naga rebels have used bases in Burma to train and rest before returning to fight in India. After much diplomatic pressure the Burmese army finally went after the Naga rebel camps and have now shut most of them down. The Naga rebels do not fight the Burmese soldiers but always retreat. For this new operation Burmese soldiers have orders to pursue and capture of kill any rebels they encounter. If the rebels head for India the Indian Army is alerted and moves troops into position to confront any rebels crossing the border to escape Burmese troops.

May 15, 2019: In the south (the port city of Yangon, formerly Rangoon and the largest city in Burma), about a hundred anti-Moslem Buddhist vigilantes, led by nationalist Buddhist monks confronted local Moslems who were using three homes for special Ramadan (the annual month of fasting and prayer) prayer gatherings. The local Moslems had notified local government and received permission to do this but the vigilantes opposed the gatherings. This is the second time this vigilante group had confronted local Moslems over legal Ramadan assemblies. In both cases, the police were called and the vigilantes told to disperse. There have been problems like this before. These Moslems are not Rohingya but the nationalist monks don’t care and some of these Buddhist vigilantes want all Moslems expelled from Burma. The government does not agree with that as the non-Rohingya Moslems are citizens with no history of Islamic radicalism or any other problems. The vigilantes know that as long as they are not violent the police will just order them to go away. The vigilantes do and keep coming back. The police are getting tired of this but the government ordered them to play it by the book until instructed otherwise. Some senior officials secretly support the vigilantes and that is becoming a major political issue.

May 14, 2019: In the northwest (Sagaing Region), three Indian Ufla (United Liberation Front of Assam) rebels were arrested by police. The security forces have recently encountered a growing number of Ufla members on the Burmese side of the border. Some of the Ufla members were armed but others were apparently seeking to establish a clandestine presence in towns and cities in Burma.

May 13, 2019: In the north (Shan state), police conducted three raids and rounded up 188 Chinese in the country illegally. Some weapons and drugs were also seized. The Chinese were operating illegal gambling and drug operations in Burma.

May 10, 2019: In the northwest (Rakhine state), the army is again accused of shooting unarmed civilians either out in the open or after civilians have been arrested.

May 7, 2019: In Malaysia, police carried out two raids in the last three days and arrested four members of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). One of the arrested was Malaysian but the other three were foreigners (an Indonesian and two Burmese Rohingya). One of the Rohingya had a UN ID card showing he had been from a refugee camp in Bangladesh. The ISIL men had been in touch with contacts in Syria and were planning attacks against Hindu temples and Christian churches in Malaysia. The two Rohingya admitted they had been associated with ARSA Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army) who have been active this year in northern Burma. ARSA was blamed for planting a mine in a road that damaged a police van. There have been persistent reports but not a lot of conclusive evidence that ARSA sought out and murdered Hindus. Islamic terrorists tend to take credit for their attacks, not deny them, so it’s unclear what is going on with this. Rakhine State Islamic terrorists first showed up in late 2016 and August 2017 when there were attacks by a Rohingya Islamic terrorist group called ARSA. Its founder (a Rohingya expatriate) and much of the cash came from Saudi Arabia. Burma prefers to call groups like ARSA Islamic terrorists but until ARSA and the Saudi cash showed up there had not been much, if any, religious aspect to the armed Rohingya resistance. In late 2017 ARSA began openly calling for Rohingya worldwide to support a war against Burma for the bad treatment the Rohingya have received, especially since 2012. Until this new call for al Qaeda help appeared ARSA had denied any connection with al Qaeda but that had apparently changed. Malaysia is a destination for many Rohingya seeking to get out of the region and start a new life. But some have apparently found Malaysia more conducive to Islamic terrorist activities. That is marginally true but the Malaysian police have been quick to round up any of these terrorists seeking to carry out attacks in Malaysia.

April 25, 2019: Western nations are now considering reviving economic sanctions against Burma because of the unresolved Rohingya refugee problem. China is hoping for the worst because that would mean Burma would be more dependent on China for trade and investment. It would make Burma a Chinese dependency (sort of like North Korea) and the Burmese don’t care for that but that the army leadership is comfortable with it. That bad behavior manifests itself in Kachin State when thousands of locals are regularly demonstrating against the Chinese Myitsone dam, a $3.6 billion project that began in 2009 but has been stalled by local resistance since 2011. In the last year, China has threatened Myanmar with economic retaliation and withdrawal of protection in the UN (over criticism of the mistreatment of Rohingya Moslems) unless the dam project resumes. Opposition to the dam has become a national issue with most Burmese angry at Chinese attempts to bully Burma into accepting the dam project. Because Burma needs China more than the other way around Burmese leaders are still working on ways to get the Chinese projects moving again.


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