Myanmar: UN Blames Itself For Chinese Threats


June 20, 2019: The UN revealed an internal report on how the UN handled the crises created when a million Rohingya (Burmese Moslems) who were driven out of Burma into Bangladesh in 2017 by the Burmese military. The UN blames itself for not taking action in 2017. What really happened was Chinese intervention. China is an ally of Burma and the Chinese veto (and considerable clout in the UN) blocked any UN action against Burma. The anti-Rohingya violence that caused all this was instigated by nationalist Buddhist religious leaders and the Burmese military took advantage of it. The Burmese military was forced to give up a lot of their decades of dictatorial power in 2011 and agree to a restoration of democracy. That meant the Buddhist nationalists could go after the Rohingya, something the military dictatorship had put on hold. After 2012 the threat of international sanctions gave the military more power in Burma to resist corruption investigations and interference with their profitable, but illegal, activities in the north. China prefers to work with the Burmese military, which makes Burmese democrats uneasy. The military leaders (but active and those retired and in politics) find that they are losing more and more popular support in Burma because of the Rohingya mess and are actually quite willing to make a deal, as long as it does not involve allowing a lot of Rohingya to return. That is one thing most Burmese agree on. The UN has similar problems with China in the UN, where it is considered prudent to not criticize China directly. So the UN blames itself, officially, but everyone knows who is really at fault in a particular situation.

Northern Disorder

The government has other problems in the north beside the Rohingya, mainly the continued feuding between some rival rebel groups or between rebels and the military. So far this year the army has 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 or prostitutes. 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).

June 18, 2019: In the northwest (Sagaing Region, west of Kachin State), the months of cooperation by Indian and Burmese troops along the border was recently described by Indian mass media as “joint operations”. The head of the Burmese military objected to the “joint” angle and insisted that Burmese troops were coordinating operations as both sides of the border were searched for camps established by Burmese and Indian rebel groups. No troops crossed the border so there were no “joint” operations. The main target of these coordinated efforts is Indian and Burmese Naga rebels. The Sagaing region has long been used as a refuge for Indian rebels but since February Indian and Burmese forces have been coordinating efforts to shut down the border camps for good, or at least for a long time. The latest phase of these operations just ended and there is still more to do. 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. In response Burmese troops began to patrol the area for several months, or as long as it took for India to certify that the Naga rebels have suffered serious and long-term damage. Indian troops were also 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 or at least made them very difficult to maintain. The Naga rebels do not fight the Burmese soldiers but always retreat. For this new operation, Burmese soldiers have orders to pursue and capture or 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.

June 16, 2019: In the north (Shan state), fighting broke out again between the army and the TNLA (Tang National Liberation Army). These fights are usually over control of disputed territory and this time the army is advancing on TNLA outposts and camps. This latest outburst of violence had caused over 200 villagers to flee their homes to avoid the shooting.

June 11, 2019: In southwest Thailand (Satun province), which borders Malaysia, a smuggler boat carrying 65 illegal Burmese Rohingya Moslems headed for Malaysia was discovered by police. Because of bad weather, the boat had been driven ashore on an island off the coast and was stuck. The Rohingya were from a refugee camp in Bangladesh and the boat was operated by six men (a Thai captain and five Burmese crew). Thai and Malaysian police are trying to find out if the boat operators are part of a larger smuggling operation. This incident was not unique as groups of illegal migrants have been found in the forest areas along the border with Malaysia. In one recent case, the illegals had lost their guide and were themselves lost and starving when troops found them. The 65 recent refugees were trapped on the island.

June 6, 2019: In the northwest (Sagaing Region, west of Kachin State), the NSCN-K faction of the NSCN (National Socialist Council of Nagaland) rebels said they would not sign the NCA (Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement) with the government. This version of the NCA was agreed to in 2015 and since then most tribal rebels have agreed to it.

May 30, 2019: The government presented China with a set of additional conditions to modify the CMEC (China-Myanmar Economic Corridor) agreement China and Burma signed in September 2018. That agreement called for both countries to begin detailed negotiations on where a 1,700 kilometer long transportation corridor from southern China (Yunan province) to central Burma (Mandalay) and then west to the coast at the Kyaukpyu SEZ (Special Economic Zone) will be built and what it will consist of. The corridor would improve roads, railroads and build, as needed, pipelines and electrical transmission lines. This would be financed by China and built mainly by Chinese construction firms. CMEC paid special attention to the risk of a “debt trap” where Burma might find itself with debt it could not repay unless it turned over new facilities to Chinese ownership or control. This has happened in other nations, most recently in Sri Lanka. Burma needs the investment and since 1988 China has been the major foreign investor in Burma with projects totaling $20 billion so far. Burma told China it was working on special “debt trap” provisions and the main one is for China to allow foreign nations to provide some of the loans needed for the CMEC work. That is now under consideration.

CMEC is the Burma component of the massive Chinese Obor (One Belt, One Road) effort. Also called BRI (Belt and Road Initiative), Obor is all about China building roads, railroads, pipelines and ports to make it easier for Chinese imports and exports to move around, from East Asia to Europe, Africa and more. Pakistan, Nepal, Thailand Sri Lanka and Burma are all Obor participants that are seeing billions of dollars in construction Chinese projects taking place and the terms of these deal tend to favor China, not the country where the construction takes place. Not surprisingly many people in these Obor countries see the Chinese investments as another form of colonialism. China prefers not to call it colonialism but rather seeking to expand its commercial activities. The Burmese tribes have long depended on Chinese cash and diplomatic influence to survive. China is working that angle as much as it can to get their costly development projects operational and want long-term peace with the tribes to keep the Chinese investments safe and profitable. Many of the tribal people are more willing to trust the Chinese than their own government which puts it all on China to make this work. While these Chinese projects often displace tribal people, usually without any compensation, the Chinese are more willing to make long-term deals with the locals. For the Chinese, it is just business while the Burmese see the tribes as potential rebels and long-term antagonists.

May 26, 2019: In the west (Chin state) soldiers moving up a river on four boats were ambushed by members of the AA (Arakan Army) tribal rebels. Both sides dispute how many casualties there were. The AA accused the army of entering AA territory without permission and this violence has been going on for about ten days with troops advancing from several directions. The AA claims the army has been using there usual tactics of firing artillery at local villages suspected of supporting the rebels. The AA says there have been over fifty civilian casualties so far this year, including at least twenty dead. The army denies they do this but their track record over the last few decades says otherwise. So far this year there have been over 200 clashes between the AA and the security forces (army and police) which has caused over 300 casualties among the forces involved. Neither side agrees on how many losses each side has suffered. Some of this fighting took place neighboring (to the south) Rakhine state. The fighting continues into mid-June.


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