Potential Hot Spots: March 6, 2000

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The border between Thailand and Burma is 2,400km long; of this, only 58km has been "demarcated" (officially surveyed and marked). This hasn't been particularly important in the past, as the region is remote and most of the border areas are controlled by small tribal groups and mini-statelets which have little use for either "national" government. But the times are changing. The Burmese Junta has managed to make deals with most of these groups and to militarily suppress the others. New roads have given more access to the interior, and new survey techniques are starting to find resources. Both countries are scrambling to lock up key areas before beginning formal border talks. Thai and Burmese troops are involved in tense stand offs at Doil Land and Huay Ha in the Chiang Mai region. These are regarded as strategic regions by both sides, and both claim the other is occupying its "clear historical territory". Both Thailand and Burma have publicly declared reductions in troops posted along the border while sending more troops, and both have declared pullbacks from disputed regions "to avoid any misunderstanding" while in fact grabbing up as much territory as possible. (Even territory never claimed can be traded as a bargaining chip for territory really wanted.) While the large Karen rebel group and its various ethnic allies grab all of the headlines, the real problem in this region is the much smaller United Wa State Army. While much smaller than the Karens, it is one the largest narcotics trafficking organizations in the world. This gives the WSA the money to buy whatever weapons it wants, including new shoulder-fired anti-aircraft weapons from China and heavy infantry weapons from Cambodia. --Stephen V Cole

 

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