Myanmar: Making The North Safe For China


January 14, 2013: China has sent more troops to its side of the border to try and stop the movement of more Kachin refugees fleeing the renewed fighting there. Last month the government began another offensive against Kachin rebels in the north and has been using artillery and air strikes to force the rebels and their families to flee the area. The Burmese Air Force is using Chinese armed K-8 jet trainers in the north. There are now over 100,000 Kachin refugees from the renewed fighting in the north.

The Christian Kachin are quite different from Buddhist Burmese from the south and have never considered themselves part of Burma. The Kachin are the only tribal rebels in the north who have not made peace with the government. The Kachin and other tribal rebels have been trying to permanently shut down Chinese hydroelectric dam projects in their territory. The electricity from the dams goes to China, the profits go to the Burmese generals and local Kachin people pay for it all with their land and way-of-life. The government has halted, but not cancelled, the dam construction because of armed opposition by the Kachin. But the government (still largely controlled by the generals) waited for the media attention to die down so dam construction can resume. The government also tried to starve the Kachin into submission. This process began in June 2011, when the army attacked. First, civilians in rebel areas were driven out of their villages. Then the troops blocked the roads going into rebel territory, preventing food and other aid from getting in. The rebels attacked the checkpoints and army patrols but not enough to break the blockade. The government eventually allowed some UN sponsored aid through but frequently halted the aid in response to rebel attacks on troops.

The government ordered the army to halt its attacks in December 2011, but the army apparently said it would but didn’t. The army still carries on like it is running the government, feeling free to disobey orders it disagrees with. Part of this has to do with corruption and deals army generals have made with China concerning Chinese economic projects in the north, especially in Kachin territory. The current attacks are apparently taking place in seven different areas, including an advance on the Kachin rebel headquarters near the Chinese border.

For over a year China has paid Burmese soldiers in the north to provide additional security for natural gas and petroleum pipeline construction, as well as hydroelectric dams and copper mines being built in the north. This was not sufficient to force the rebels back. The Kachin tribal rebels up there shut down the $3.6 billion dam project two years ago but the pipelines (going from China to the Bay of Bengal coast) continued to be built. This is partly because the Chinese paid Burmese soldiers are being particularly brutal with any tribal peoples who get close to the Chinese workers and equipment. Meanwhile, work on Chinese hydroelectric dams is still halted and much construction equipment is still out in the bush, waiting for orders to resume work. That is costing the Chinese a lot of money. The government tried to negotiate a new peace deal with the Kachin rebels, but that effort failed. The government has screwed the Kachin so many times in the past that it was difficult to generate sufficient trust to make a deal. The Chinese are also unhappy because the renewed fighting in 2011 sent over 10,000 Kachin fleeing into China to avoid the Burmese troops. Burmese in general are angry about the Chinese hydroelectric dams because all the electricity will go to China. There is a serious shortage of electricity in Burma, and Burmese wonder why the Chinese are allowed to build these dams and export all the electricity. In addition, the Kachin have been blowing up electricity transmission lines from the north, in an attempt to get the government's attention about the Kachin rebellion and the Chinese dam projects. The Kachin attacks make the power shortages in the south worse.

It’s not just pipelines but also dams and illegal timber deals. Most any large-scale economic deal in the tribal north is negotiated with the government. The Chinese pay off Burmese government officials and then move in to start operations. A recent effort to build a copper mine ran into problems when locals, who were not consulted, or compensated, were confronted by police demanding they vacate their property so the Chinese can use it for the mine. The locals, most of them tribal, resisted. This became a political issue down south, as it resonated with corruption and Chinese payoffs that the new democratic government promised to eliminate. But a lot of these deals are still in force, and that is proving to be an embarrassment for the officials who negotiated the terms and got paid off.

January 11, 2013: In the north a military helicopter crashed in an area where Kachin rebels are active. The rebels claim they shot the chopper down. The three man crew of the helicopter died in the crash. The army uses Russian helicopters for reconnaissance and to attack rebels with machine-guns and rockets.  

China announced that it had sent more troops to its side of the Burmese border in response to artillery and air strikes inside Burma that could be heard just across the border in China.

January 9, 2013: Kachin rebels report renewed army artillery attacks on them, more civilians cross into China to avoid the shelling.

January 7, 2013: Kachin rebels report more K-8 and helicopter attacks on military positions and villages.

January 4, 2013:  In the far north a tribal militia, the Shan State Army–South (SSA-S), reports that the army has invaded its territory in violation of a December 2011 peace deal. The SSA-S is allied with the neighboring United Wa State Army (UWSA) militia and these two groups are making a lot of money in the drug business. Opium and heroin production have been revived in the past few years. Production of methamphetamine is huge. Called "yaba" ("crazy drug") locally, most of it is smuggled out via Thailand. Over the last few years production of yaba tablets has soared. The meth labs are easier to conceal than poppy fields (opium is the sap of poppy plants) and these labs are believed to produce several hundred million tablets a year. The tribal rebels, especially the United Wa State Army, use the profits to buy more weapons for their army and run their own government. The government has been in a weak bargaining position here but always had the option to declare the militias in violation of the 2011 peace deal and renew fighting. The government has made no official announcement about the state of the peace deal with SSA-S and UWSA, and this is apparently another case of the army acting on its own. The army says it is merely providing security for a road building project and that the SSA-S has delayed working out details of the peace deal.

January 2, 2013: The U.S. and the UN have called on the Burmese to halt military operations in the north. Officially, the Burmese government says there are no military operations in the north, just troops defending themselves from Kachin rebel attacks. Unofficially some government officials admit that the army is acting on its own to force the Kachin to make a peace deal and allow the Chinese dam and pipeline projects to proceed unhindered.

December 28, 2012: Kachin rebels in the north refused army demands to stop blocking a road (needed to supply an army base) and the army responded with more artillery and air attacks against Kachin targets throughout the north. The army is seeking to drive Kachin rebels away from Chinese dam construction sites.

December 26, 2012:  The government admitted that corruption and inept officials were slowing the pace of reforms in the government and economy. The military group that had ruled Burma for decades may have peacefully handed over control of the government and allowed elections two years ago but many pro-military officials still held senior government jobs, and these men are the most corrupt and uncooperative. Removing these officials has to be done carefully, to avoid another military takeover.

December 24, 2012: Kachin rebels report the army is using artillery and air strikes against military and civilian targets. Thousands of Kachin civilians head for the Chinese border to get away from the violence. The government denied that there were air strikes and that aircraft were only being used to help detect Kachin rebels trying to ambush advancing troops. Artillery was only to be used to defend troops against rebel attacks. The army says that the Kachin rebels have been blocking supply convoys trying to reach remote army bases. The rebels believe the supplies include more rocket and artillery munitions to be used against Kachin villages and armed rebels.

December 21, 2012: In the north explosives and gunfire were used to attack a Mandalay-Myitkyina freight train. Myitkyina is the capital of Kachin state in the north and the center of army power in the region.

December 13, 2012: The army began attacking Kachin targets in the north, complaining about rebels blocking the movement of army supply convoys and firing on troops.



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