Potential Hot Spots: Burma

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May 17, 2006: Burma (Myanmar) has sent over a division of troops into the northern jungles, to remove Karen villagers from the vicinity of the new national capital; Pyinmana. The Karen tribes have been fighting the ethnic Burmese for centuries, especially since Burma regained its independence after World War II. The army operations have been going on for several months, displacing over 10,000 Karen villagers. Some of these refugees have been showing up at the Thai border.

The six million Karen make up about seven percent of Burma's population. Decades of military operations against the Karen have resulted in 400,000 Karen living in Thailand. Various Karen resistance organizations have 3-4,000 armed men, but the Burmese army has over 350,000 troops. What keeps the Burmese from wiping out the Karen is that the tribes are spread over a large area of hilly jungle in northern Burma, and it would be very expensive to put most of the army up there for such a genocidal operation. Moreover, Burma has been run by a military dictatorship since the 1960s, and the generals tend to be paranoid about letting too much of the army concentrate on one thing for too long. The generals have also run the economy into the ground over the decades, and a major operation against the Karen would cost more than Burma could afford. Then there's the UN, which is loudly criticizing the Burmese for their treatment of the Karen. The Burmese generals find this annoying, but they are used to being international outcasts. The generals have built a rather resilient police state, which has neutralized resistance from the ethnic Burmese majority, and several tribal minorities in the north.

Burma has reached peace deals with 17 other tribal resistance groups, and now the Karen are asking for ceasefire negotiations as well. With no outside help, the Karen tribes are generally tired of the unequal fight with the Burmese army.

 

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