Potential Hot Spots: Deals With The Devil

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: Items About Areas That Could Break Out Into War

July 26, 2007: India, and Bangladesh have made an informal deal with Myanmar to drive rebels from each others borders. Over the last few years, the three countries have worked out these deals, to rid themselves of rebel groups that had been driven to the border, and only survived because they could flee across the border and set up camp until the troops hunting them were gone. For decades, Myanmars neighbors avoided such cooperative relations, as a form of protest against the military dictatorship in Myanmar. But now, the need to deal with various rebel organizations has overcome this distaste. India is also selling weapons to Myanmar, to obtain a little more enthusiastic cooperation in the anti-rebel department.

Last year, Burma (Myanmar) 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 displaced over 10,000 Karen villagers. Some of these refugees have been showing up at the Thai border. The Thais still tolerate Myanmar rebels on their side of the border, if only because there are no Thai rebels hiding out in Myanmar.

The six million Karen make up about seven percent of Burmas population. Decades of military operations against the Karen have resulted in 400,000 Karen living in Thailand (and another 100,000 refugees from other tribes). 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, 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.

Myanmar (still referred to as Burma) has been ruled by a military dictatorship for the last 45 years. The generals have run the economy into the ground, and succeeded in suppressing all attempts at establishing a representative government. They have also managed to maintain the support of a fairly large army. How have they managed to pull this off for so long? Simple, the generals have concentrated on maintaining the loyalty of the officers and senior NCOs in the armed forces. This is done by making the military a well paid, by Burmese standards, profession, and select carefully from among those who apply to be career soldiers.
About one percent of Burmas 50 million people are in the armed forces (including paramilitary intelligence and security secret police type organizations.) The secret police keep an eye on the troops, and the troops keep an eye (and often gun pointed at) the people. Myanmar only spends about a billion dollars a year on the armed forces, most of that going to pay and living expenses of infantry troops.

 

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