Myanmar: There Is No Law On The Borders

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June 24, 2016: In the north (Kachin and Shan States) tribal rebels continue, since early May, fighting army attempts to seize territory long controlled by the separatist rebels and, all too often, in violation of ceasefire agreements. The army keeps the media out so news of what is actually going on there takes weeks, if ever, to get out. While many of the arracks are against rebel checkpoints or bases, the troops continue to employ their tactics of attacking (with gunfire, air strikes and artillery) villages believed to be pro-rebel (or at least anti-army). Troops are apparently under orders to burn the bodies of any civilians found in the villages (along with burning everything down). The fighting here is with tribal rebel groups that the military won’t negotiate with for various reasons as well as some, like the UWSA (United Wa State Army) and MNDAA (Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army) that have agreed to talk but have not agreed to anything yet. The army has been fighting the KIA (Kachin Independence Army) since April. A new Burmese president, backed by the new parliament, was expected to change that eventually but so far the army is misbehaving with impunity as it always has.

June 23, 2016: In the southeast (Tenasserim) the KNU (Karen National Union) told the army that it would fight if troops advanced into KNU held territory. The army has been increasingly aggressive with its small movements into territory long held by tribal rebels in the north and Thai border areas. Although the KNU signed the new Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) in late 2015 the army is interpreting the NCA as allowing the army to operate more freely when dealing with older peace deals. Eight rebel groups refused to sign the NCA because they did not trust the military and believed the army would use the NCA (which confirmed the new constitution that gave the army new powers) to attack rebels. 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 and along the Thai border. 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 seen as military dictatorship and persecuted for that. 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 increased military pressure on tribal rebels who thought they had made peace.

June 20, 2016: In the north (Kachin State) a local college student was shot dead by soldiers at a checkpoint. There was apparently an argument between two of the soldiers and the student and as the student drove off on his motorbike the soldiers fired on him and the student later died. As with many similar incidents in the north the soldiers have no plausible reason to kill the student and the two soldiers witnesses identified as being the shooters were arrested and charged with manslaughter. It is widely believed, especially in the north, that if there is a trial for the two accused soldiers the military will use its influence to ensure that the soldiers are not punished.

June 16, 2016: In the southeast (Mon State) soldiers raided a checkpoint long maintained by tribal NMSP (New Mon State Party) rebels. The NMSP fighters fled and the soldiers seized two weapons and a portable radio. This raid was in violation of a 1995 ceasefire that had been renewed in 2012. The NMSP refused, along with seven other tribal rebel groups, to sign a new NCA (Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement) with the government last year. The army said the recent aggressiveness is in response to local families and businesses complaining about the recent annual NMSP fund drive. These “taxes” are not always voluntary but the real reason is the army has been told to punish the tribal rebels who refused to sign the NCA.

Indian and Burmese officials pledged to increase cooperation in maintaining security along their mutual border and undertaking more joint economic development projects there as well. This announcement came in the wake of another Indian commando raid (the second in a year) into northern Burma. The latest raid took place on May 27th, in response to a May 22nd ambush on the Indian side of the border that killed six Indian soldiers. The attackers, who admitted responsibility and posted pictures on the Internet, were tracked back to a base across the border in Burma. The Indian commandos killed eight of the tribal separatists and turned over another 18 to Burmese police. It appears this Indian raid was not considered illegal by the Burmese. All this began with a June 4th 2015 ambush inside India where Indian rebels operating from Burmese bases inflicted heavy casualties on Indian troops. This led to an Indian cross-border commando raid on June 8th that destroyed the rebel camp Burma insisted did not exist. This was clear evidence that despite Burmese promises in 2014 to shut down such camps the rebels were still there. In mid-2015 India believed there were at least 25 such camps in northern Burma, with precise locations given for 17 camps. Some were as close as six kilometers from the border while others were up to 40 kilometers away. The rebels got the message and most packed up and moved back to Assam on the Indian side of the border. But India warned that the rebels would try to move back into Burma and some did.

In the aftermath of the June 2015 incidents India and Burma came up with a new agreement about how to deal with the problem. Within months of the Indian raid the Burmese army sent several thousand additional troops to the 1,643 kilometer long Indian border. Burma admitted it was responsible for detecting and expelling these illegal visitors but most of the border area is thinly populated forests and mountains and it is very difficult to get troops into the area and very expensive to support them as they seek out and deal with any intruders. India believed it was a matter of priorities. The cooperation with India now goes beyond sharing intelligence and coordinating security operations on both sides of the border. To help with this India also sent a few more battalions to areas the rebels seem to prefer to cross at and increased patrols on the Indian side of the border. This made it more difficult for the rebels to move to and from their Burma sanctuaries but did not stop them. In April 2016 troops from both India and Burma began joint patrols along parts of their mutual border. The way the latest India raid was handled appears to have been satisfactory for both countries and the border security cooperation is expected to continue.

 

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