Myanmar: The Cycle Of Death And Destruction

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February 17, 2014: The government has negotiated another group of ceasefire deals with northern tribal rebel groups. This does not mean peace is finally coming to the north. These ceasefire deals are just that and an opportunity for the tribes to rebuild their resources and have a bit of relief from army raids and random firepower. The ceasefires also allow the southerners and their tribal allies to continue exploiting the tribal peoples. That sort of abuse has been going on for decades and it eventually (after a few months or years) triggers another round of armed rebellion. In theory all this bad behavior by troops and government officials is illegal and not happening. In practice the abuse continues. There’s money to be made up there, especially with the Chinese coming in with large amounts of cash looking to set up mines, dams, oil and gas operations and all manner of development that benefits China. Burmese troops and government officials take bribes and fees from the Chinese to help make it happen (and keep the angry tribes out of the way). It does little for the people who have long lived up there and actually does much harm to the locals. Despite the peace negotiations the army continues to attack, but not on a large scale. The rebels continue to make travel on the few roads dangerous. This makes life difficult for the troops, who get most of their food and other supplies via truck. The unrest also cuts off pro-rebel villages from road traffic and makes consumer goods more expensive as they have to be smuggled in past the army roadblocks.

Some of the rebel groups in the north are improving their military forces, even though they participate in peace negotiations. For example the Wa rebels (UWSA or United Wa State Army) are establishing an air force. This consists of some Mi-17 helicopters from China. Some 30 Wa tribesmen are in China training to operate and maintain the helicopters. In Shan state the UWSA is a major factor and the army tends to respect UWSA military capabilities. Half the tribal militiamen in the far north belong to the UWSA, which has about 30,000 armed men operating along the Chinese border. The Wa are ethnic Chinese, and many other Wa live across the border in China. The Chinese has made it clear to the Burmese government that any attack on the Wa would not be appreciated and have pressured the Burmese on behalf of the Wa. Burmese troops continue interfering with truck traffic entering Wa territory. The Wa can get what they need from China, but some Burmese Wa live closer to roads coming from the south, rather than those coming from China. Many Wa believe that the Burmese would like to push all the Wa into China, but that is not likely to happen because of UWSA resistance and Chinese support.

It is true that the ethnic Burmese in the south would prefer the northern tribes to just disappear. The tribes feel the same way towards the southerners and point out that the tribesmen are not going south to rape and rob the southerners where they live. While many tribal groups try to coexist with the southern invaders, the abuse is only reduced, not eliminated because of that support. The corrupt cops and marauding soldiers see all tribal people as potential victims.

Thailand admitted that it had forcibly sent back 1,300 Burmese Moslems last November. Moslem nations continue energetically protesting attacks on Moslems in Burma. All this bad publicity is lost on most non-Moslem Burmese. That’s because throughout the region Islam tended to arrive in the form of a conquering army that would be less abusive to new subjects who converted. Most of the people in south Asia resisted this demand to convert and suffered generations of Moslem violence because of their intransigence. Non-Moslems in the region also note that most of the religious violence in the world is caused by Moslems. Hindus, Jews, Christians and Buddhists are all frequent targets, as are many Moslems believed to be heretics (like Shia and many smaller groups). Foreign observers rarely pick up on these ancient grievances but the locals take it for granted and act violently to real or imagined Moslem threats. Foreign aid groups on the west coast (Arakan and Rakhine states), where most of the anti-Moslem violence occurs, make most of the complaints about local Buddhists attacking Moslems or interfering with efforts to get aid to displaced Moslems. Some of the accusations are true, but the Buddhists note that the Moslems are quick to complain yet say or do little about the more numerous Moslem attacks on non-Moslems worldwide. Buddhist religious leaders insist they are encouraging violence against Moslems in order to prevent violence against Buddhists and other non-Moslems in Burma. This strikes a chord with most Burmese, be they the Buddhist majority in the south or the largely Christian tribes in the north.

In 2013 over 250 people have died and over 150,000 driven from their homes because of the religious violence in Burma. Most of the victims have been Moslem and that is where more and more of the foreign aid is going. Before that most of the foreign relief aid went north to the tribal areas where the army has been fighting rebels for decades and since 2011 over 100,000 people have been driven from their homes in the north. That is still going on but has been eclipsed since 2012 by the anti-Moslem violence. The government considers many of the foreign aid groups more interested in obtaining more donations by exaggerating the problems the refugees are having. The foreign aid staff are paid well for their efforts but it all depends on foreign donors, especially wealthy Arabs in the Persian Gulf, increasing their contributions.

February 14, 2014: The government is prosecuting five journalists for reporting on a closely guarded military facility that was described as a chemical weapons factory. Since 2009 there have been rumors of the army using unidentified chemical weapons against tribal rebels. The army denies the accusations but will not disclose what is going on at the military base.

February 11, 2014: Germany agreed to forgive $748 million of Burma’s debt to Germany. That’s about half the debt and the Germans are aware that a lot of that aid was stolen by government officials rather than applied for the public good. In the last half century the various military governments had accumulated about $11 billion in foreign debt. One reason the military surrendered power and allowed real elections in 2011 was the reluctance of foreigners lend to Burma. The military dictatorship was seen as hopelessly corrupt and incompetent. The new elected government still has problems with corruption but at least is trying to do something about it.

February 8, 2014: Two Buddhist politicians from Rakhine state escaped unharmed when a man on a motorcycle fired on them and sped away. Buddhists assume the shooter was a Moslem while the Moslems assume the shooter was a Buddhist radical trying to generate more animus towards Moslems. 

February 3, 2014:  In Arakan state some 3,000 Buddhists demonstrated in support of the police. The Arakan Buddhists feel threatened by the Moslems in the area and support the use of police or civilian violence against the threat.

January 27, 2014: The World Bank agreed to provide $2 billion for building infrastructure and expanding the medical care system.

January 22, 2014: A coalition of 16 rebellious tribal militias in the north has agreed to yet another a peace deal with the government. The tribal negotiators must now sell it to all their followers before this latest effort can be signed and implemented.

January 21, 2014: The IMF (International Monetary Fund) believes that the Burmese economy will grow by over seven percent in each of the next two years. The IMF believes the growth rate could be higher if the government could do more about the continued corruption. Although the military government stepped down in 2011 many of the corrupt officials that served the military dictatorship still have jobs and are still dirty.

 

 

 

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