Myanmar: Oops Does Not Do It


December 17, 2014: The United States wants to reduce Chinese influence in Burma and is making nice to the new (still military dominated) government. This disappoints many Burmese reformers, although they would also like to see Chinese military and economic influence reduced. The military leaders are mainly trying to hold onto their loot (from decades of running a military dictatorship) and stay out of prison (because of how they ran their dictatorship.)

Despite continued pressure from the United States as well as the UN and the Moslem world to do something about the continuing bad treatment of Burmese Moslems nothing much is happening. As a result over 50,000 Rohingya Moslems have hired smugglers to get them from Burma (or exile in Bangladesh) to Thailand and Malaysia in 2014. Any kind of peace deal with the Rohingya is unlikely as far as most Burmese are concerned. There is growing popular anger among Burmese towards Moslems in general and the Rohingya in particular. This is fed by the continuing reports of Islamic terrorism word-wide and especially in the region (Thailand, India, Bangladesh and China). The wealthy Arab oil states have put their considerable diplomatic and economic pressure on the UN to make a fuss but the Burmese generals long insisted that this could be safely ignored as they have been ignoring UN criticism for over half a century and getting away with it. The Arabs don’t get a lot of sympathy outside the Moslem world because anyone who can count notes that there is a lot more oppression and violence against non-Moslems by Moslems than the other way around. As more Western nations joined in with the demands for granting citizenship for Rohingya the government decided to make a gesture. But now that the gesture has been rejected the pressure will continue. Burmese officials are standing by their belief that granting Moslems citizenship would result in more anti-Moslem violence. The generals have another reason for stonewalling the foreigners and that is that the Moslem issue prevents the foreigners from concentrating on the fact that the former military dictators of Burma are still running things and resisting efforts by Burmese reformers to install true democracy. The generals continue to oppose reformers who want to change the current constitution (written to please the generals).

The major problem with the military in Burma is that they sustain a culture of corruption that survived the transition to democratic government. When this corruption problem is actually measured Burma finds that, while it is not the most corrupt nation in the world (that would be a three way tie between Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia) Burma is among the 20 most corrupt nations on the planet.  Burma is 156 on the list of 175 nations. Corruption in this Transparency International Corruption Perception Index is measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The three most corrupt nations have a rating of 8 and the least corrupt (New Zealand and Denmark) are 91. African nations are the most corrupt, followed by Middle Eastern ones. In East Asia North Korea sets the standard for sleazy behavior, which is apparently why the Burmese generals always got along with North Korea.  

One reason the tribal rebels up north are so feisty is because they have been increasing opium and heroin production up there for eight years in a row. Thus production is now triple what it was in 2006. That’s nearly 800 tons of opium. The rebels smuggle in the chemicals needed to turn most of this opium into over 70 tons of heroin. That’s over a hundred million dollars a year for the tribes to spend on guns, uniforms, radios and everything else they need to keep fighting the Burmese Army. The Burmese generals are not interested in peace with the rebels because as long as there is fighting up there the elected officials cannot be too energetic in going after military leaders for past transgressions.

December 15, 2014: In the north (Shan state) Kokang rebels have had an army outpost near the Chinese border surrounded for several days. The fighting has left seven soldiers dead and over twenty wounded so far. The army moved in reinforcements but the Kokang withdrew gradually, continuing to inflict casualties on the soldiers. Kokang are tribal rebels who used to be more political (communist) and made peace in 2009. That did not last because the army kept operating in tribal territory. Kokang is allied with 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.

December 11, 2014: The government, with the cooperation of the military, offered to resume peace talks with tribal rebels who are still fighting (usually because the army ignored terms of earlier peace deals and kept interfering in tribal affairs). This latest government offer is apparently in response to the recent formation of a united (for 12 tribal militias) rebel force. This is the FUA (Federal Union Army) and presents the army with a more united and coordinated rebel opponent in the north. The FUA is the direct result of growing tribal mistrust of the military. The tribal rebels are particularly dismayed to find that the elected government is unable to control the troops, who continue to loot, kill and rape in the tribal areas.

December 10, 2014: The KIA (Kachin Independence Army) cancelled its monthly meetings with the army. This was a measure to help prevent misunderstandings that would lead to more fighting.

November 19, 2014: The army fired several artillery shells at a tribal rebel officer training camp (run by the KIA). One shell landed in the midst of some trainees and killed 23 men from the TNLA, KIA and Arakan Army. All three groups now want some revenge. The army response was; “oops” and assurances that it was unintentional. The shelling was part of yet another army offensive into KIA territory.



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