Myanmar: Cursed By Generals And Chinese

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August 26, 2014:  The new democracy 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. 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. Journalists are being sent to jail and popular demonstrations are suppressed by police. 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.

Foreign investment is slow to arrive because of the lingering power of the army. The foreign investors and most Burmese are pressuring the Burmese military to allow modifications in the 2008 constitution (created when the military government was still in control) that will eliminate the excessive power of the military in the new democratic government. For example, the 2008 constitution guarantees the military 25 percent of the seats in parliament and requires 75 percent of the votes in parliament to get the constitution changed. The generals are reluctant to allow these changes because so many Burmese are still angry at the decades of bad behavior by the military government. Without some control over the government the generals who ran the military dictatorship (and many of their subordinates) could be prosecuted for their crimes. The generals are under a lot of pressure over the constitutional reform issue. Burmese businessmen and foreign investors also back a reduction of military control, mainly because the military is the main source of the widespread corruption that cripples the economy.

In the north (Shan state) the army continues its two month old offensive against the SSA-N tribal rebels. This is despite the January 2012 ceasefire with SSA-N that is supposed to be in effect. Elsewhere in Shan state the army moved more troops to confront units of the United Wa Army, which is the one tribal army up north that continues to refuse to even talk peace with the government. Low level combat has continued in Shan state since June.

China insists that its plan to build a railroad through Burma is still alive. In July Burmese officials said that the $20 billion 2011 deal to extend the Chinese railroad system through Burma via a new 1,200 kilometer line to Burma’s northwest coast has been cancelled. There was much popular opposition in Burma to the project, especially in the north. The tribes saw the Chinese railroad as another opportunity for the southerners to seize tribal land and bring in more settlers from the south. When the deal was signed both the government and China realized that there was a lot of opposition in Burma  and believed they could placate that opposition before the three year “start by” clause in the contract expired. That did not work out as hoped.  Chinese officials indicate that the real problems have to do with money (how much each government will get once the line is operational) and exactly when ownership of the live will go to Burma.

August 24, 2014: The government agreed to attack camps of Indian rebel groups in northwest Burma. This would involve the use of information about the Indian rebels supplied by Indian military intelligence. This will include precise locations and other data. No Indian forces will operate inside Burma. For over a year India has been trying to convince Burma to shut down Indian rebel (Maoists and tribal separatist) camps in Burma but very close to the Indian border. The Burmese were reluctant to get involved because the Indian rebels were heavily armed, behaved themselves in Burma and spent money in Burma as well. Some of the money was bribes for local police and soldiers to keep their distance. India offered more trade and infrastructure (cross border roads) deals as well as military assistance. This appeals to Burma now that China is becoming more aggressive about expanding its investments in northern Burma. These Chinese investments are causing more problems with the tribes up there. Burma is also unhappy with the lack of Chinese cooperation to curb the Chinese arms smuggling that goes into Burma and via Burma to rebels in India (tribal ones in the northeast and communist ones throughout eastern India).

August 18, 2014: In the north (Shan state) the army clashed with TNLA  (Taang National Liberation Army) rebels and one civilian bystander was wounded. The TNLA are allies of the KIA (Kachin Independence Army) rebels. Together these two groups provide most of the armed opposition in northern Shan state. The tribes there complain of constant army raids and attacks on tribal people.

August 17, 2014: In the north (Shan state) the army clashed with TNLA rebels leaving two soldiers dead.

August 15, 2014: In the north (Shan state) an army brigade commander, for the first time anyone can remember, apologized to villagers for the misbehavior of some of his troops. The army officer was trying to convince villagers that it was safe for them to return to their homes after some combat involving troops and rebels. The army is under a lot of foreign pressure to lower the number of reports of abusive (beatings and painful, sometimes fatal, interrogations) behavior towards the tribes up north.

August 12, 2014: In the north (Shan state) soldiers and police, acting on a tip, recovered $7.3 million worth of drugs (heroin, opium and some two million methamphetamine pills) buried near a village. This was apparently part of drug smuggling operation. These drugs have become a major source of income for the tribes in the north. The destination for the locally produced stuff is mainly China and Thailand.

August 11, 2014: Police lifted the curfew that had been imposed on the city of Mandalay five weeks ago after religious riots left two dead and dozens wounded.

August 8, 2014:  In the north (Shan state) the army attacked a tribal village and caused hundreds of villagers to flee from their homes. The troops were after KIA tribal rebels who have long operated in the area (party because it contains illegal ruby mining operations).

August 6, 2014: In the northwest (Rakhine state) police in a refugee camp killed a camp resident who came after the policeman with a knife. The camp is for Moslems driven from their homes by Buddhist mobs. The government is having some serious diplomatic problems with Moslem majority nations because of the violence against Burmese Moslems in the last few years. This was made worse when, earlier this year 140,000 Rohingya Moslems living in refugee camps in the northwest were put in danger of starvation because local Buddhists accused the aid workers of supporting Moslem violence against Buddhists and drove most of the foreign aid workers out of the area. The government was believed to be involved because police did little to protect the aid workers. The UN and Moslem nations demanded that the government do something about this mess as the refugees were running out of food and other supplies because local Buddhists blocked the shipments. The government did not want to go to war with the local Buddhists but could not sit by and let the Moslem refugees starve. Over the last few months order has been restored and aid deliveries resumed. But there is still a lot of tension.

July 30, 2014: In the north (Shan state) the army has troops seeking the gunmen responsible for killing two officers outside a village.

 

 

 

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