Myanmar: Dying For Jade, Teak And Chinese Bribes


February 11, 2015: In the north (Shan state) Kokang tribal rebels have been fighting the army for the last three days. The army says the rebels started it when they ambushed a patrol on the 9 th and wounded four soldiers. The rebels say the soldiers fired first. Rebels say the army promptly escalated and on the 10 th launched three air strikes against rebel positions. This is a continuation of clashes that began in December. By the end of the year the army had moved in reinforcements and the Kokang withdrew gradually, continuing to inflict casualties on the soldiers. According to the rebels, soldiers kept advancing and have attacked other rebels groups near the Chinese border as well. The Kokang are tribal rebels who used to be more political (communist) and made peace with the government in 2009. That did not last because the army kept operating in tribal territory. Kokang has allies in the north who have also resumed fighting the army. These include the TNLA (Taang National Liberation Army) rebels in nearby Shan state as well as the KIA (Kachin) rebels. These three groups provide most of the armed opposition to the army in the Chinese border area. Rebels remain active here because China is a major market for heroin and other drugs produced in the north. China is also the source of all the military equipment the rebels need. At the moment the Chinese are not happy with the Burmese Army because the weeks of army activity has pushed thousands of refugees into China and disrupted trade (both legal, illegal and semi-legal). Many of the civilians, and rebels, on the Burmese side of the border are Burmese citizens but also ethnic Chinese. Most Chinese border areas contain these ancient Chinese tribes, who long ago decided they did not want to belong to a Chinese empire and fled, and often had to keep fleeing. China is also angry at the Burmese Army for arresting (or at least detaining) over a hundred Chinese citizens who were in Burma when all this tribal violence broke out. The Burmese are not cooperating with Chinese government efforts to locate and return their citizens to China.

Down south the months (since September 2014) of demonstrations against the new National Education Law continue. The government has outlawed the protests but the students have not backed down, even in the face of soldiers now with “shoot to kill” orders. The students believe the new law gives the government more political control over higher education and makes it easier to prosecute those who speak out against the government. Many Burmese agree with the students and feel that the new democracy is just the old military dictatorship with rigged elections (and rigged everything else).

Meanwhile Burmese Moslems continue fleeing to Malaysia and other Moslem countries in the region. People smugglers use boats and trucks to move these people south, often through Thailand overland or Thai waters. When the Thai coast guard, navy or police detect these smugglers they are forced to leave Thai waters if in boats. If caught on land smugglers and the illegal migrants are all arrested by Thai police. These migrants pay smugglers to take them to Malaysia, Thailand, India or more distant points (like Indonesia). Rohingya activists claim that up to 10,000 people a month are leaving with 75 percent coming from Burma. But thousands appear to have just disappeared. Rohingya also accuse security forces in Burma and Thailand of working with the smugglers, usually in the form of taking bribes to allow the smuggler boats and trucks to pass without interference. Some Rohingya say the missing Rohingya refugees were murdered by security forces who sank their boats. Others point out that smugglers tend to use poorly maintained boats, which are often overloaded and this leads to boats sinking, especially in bad weather or being stranded when engines fail. Over 150,000 Rohingya are believed to have fled Burma by sea since the anti-Moslem violence began there in 2012. Thailand denies all the charges and refuses to allow foreign investigators into the country. These refugees had been treated poorly by the smugglers and this sort of thing is common. Because of international pressure the Thai government has cracked down on corrupt security personnel taking bribes from or otherwise cooperating with the smugglers.

Burmese Moslems continue to flee Burma because some Buddhist clergy have organized a nationwide effort among the Buddhist majority to fight non-existent Islamic radicalism in Burma. This is seen as a power grab by the Buddhist clergymen, using fear and nationalism to become a formidable political force in the country. So far it is working and the Moslem minority is paying for it. The radical Buddhist clergy have also been blunt and caustic towards foreign critics, especially UN officials who regularly visit Burma and criticize the anti-Moslem clerics.

February 9, 2015:  The KNU (Karen National Union) announced that it would not sign the new peace deal on February 12th. The government had hoped to get most of the tribal rebels to sign that deal on that day but now it looks like few of the major rebel groups will. The tribes don’t trust the army and since the new elected government took over the army has not really changed its methods in the north. Back in 2012 when the newly elected Burmese government took over many Burmese saw it as a clever ploy by the generals to maintain their control over the country without being tagged a military dictatorship. The new government is not as restrictive and arbitrary but the generals still appear to have the final say.  That suspicion has, for many Burmese, been confirmed. Not just with new laws, but with the halt in releasing political prisoners still jailed and putting new ones behind bars.

February 6, 2015: In the north (Shan state) clashes between soldiers and TNLA tribal rebels have left five soldiers and ten rebels dead as well as at least two civilians dead and several wounded. In addition more than 2,000 civilians were forced to flee their homes to escape the violence. The government is accused of using air strikes and artillery against rebels and their civilian supporters.

February 5, 2015: In the north (Kachin State) troops continued advancing on the Kachin (KIA) tribal rebels. Over the last week this fighting has left at least twenty dead and many more wounded. In the last year the KIA has been accused of demanding protection money from the jade mining companies in the area. The army considers this a violation of an unwritten (as far as anyone knows) agreement in which the army and the KIA share illegal revenues from the jade trade. Burma is the main source of jade on the planet and exports about $4 billion worth each year. Yet only about one percent of that is taxed and half of it is found by illegal mining operations and is quietly sold to Chinese traders. Most of the illegal jade trade is controlled by generals who have connections inside China. The rest is controlled by rebels. Most of the jade is in the northern tribal territories and the army is constantly trying to force tribal rebels out of jade producing areas.  The military men are not giving up all their illegal businesses and the government, despite being elected, is reluctant to force the issue, at least not yet, especially when it comes to the lucrative illegal jade trade. A lot of the current fighting is a continuation of this Jade War.”

January 28, 2015: The government opened a new oil pipeline to China. The 770 kilometer pipeline can move about 4.5 million barrels of oil a day. Back in 2013 a 2,500 kilometer natural gas pipeline from Burmese gas fields into China was completed and began operation. About a third of the pipeline is in Burma, the rest is in China. This pipeline delivers 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year. This is equivalent (in terms of energy) to 15 million barrels of oil. The Burmese gas replaces the more expensive liquefied natural gas in three provinces of southwest China as well as eliminate the need for 30 million tons of coal a year (a major source of air pollution).

January 27, 2015:  In the southeast (Mon State) local tribal rebels said they would not allow a coal fired power plant to be built there. In addition to the land confiscation and pollution locals believe most of the electricity will be sold to businesses in nearby Thailand.

January 19, 2015: In the north (Shan State) soldiers raped and killed two women who were Kachin school teachers. The two victims were also Christians and that got Christian groups worldwide protesting to the Burmese government and international organizations. Such bad behavior against tribal peoples up north is common but normally it does not gain much media attention locally or internationally because it has been going on for so long and so often. But the attention these two victims got brings the sordid history of Burmese Army operations in the north into the media spotlight. The generals and the Burmese government are not happy with this media attention.

Elsewhere in the north (Kachin State) KIA rebels freed three policemen they had captured.

January 16, 2015: Burmese police, in response to a North Korean request, have cracked down on vendors selling illegal copies of the recent American move “The Interview.” North Korea considers the movie insulting but it has been very popular throughout East Asia (especially in China).

January 15, 2015: In the north (Kachin State) major fighting broke out between soldiers and KIA rebels. Lower level fighting has been going on in the area for months.

January 14, 2015: Burma and China have agreed to cooperate in shutting down the illegal lumber trade between Burmese and Chinese. Up north corrupt soldiers are hired by a wealthy (and very corrupt) businessmen who  bribe government and military officials to allow them to illegally cut down teak and other trees and smuggle out the valuable lumber. The local Kachin would like to preserve the teak forests but, failing that they will fight to at least get a piece of the action.



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