Myanmar: We Kill Where You Live


July 22, 2011: In the north, troops are approaching the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). Located on the Chinese border, the KIA can quickly move their operation across the border. But once in China, the KIA will have to avoid appearing to be using China as a base for operations in Burma. Otherwise, the Chinese will be obliged to come after the KIA, despite the rugged terrain along the border. China tolerates all sorts of odd characters along the border, as long as there is no violence or interferences with the government. The KIA is holding five Burmese soldiers seized during a firefight last week, and over 20,000 Kachins have fled into China to avoid the violence. Hundreds of Kachin women and children have been killed or injured by army operations.  This includes frequent cases of rape by Burmese soldiers. This sort of thing is not uncommon, as the ethnic Burmese from down south have always looked down on the northern tribes.

The government is using the same tactics they have used for generations. The only difference is that the government now has more aircraft, and more reliable trucks (but, then, so does everyone, but it makes a big difference when you are operating in the wild north). The troops advance by road, as far as they can, and then go by foot. These are usually small groups (a company, of a hundred or fewer soldiers). The rebels they pursue into the mountains also operate in small groups, but the soldiers have better weapons, radios and the possibility of air support. Most importantly, the rebels have to worry about their families, the soldiers don't. The troops deliberately attack and destroy  villages, and often kill, injure or rape villagers unable to get away quickly enough. This forces the armed tribesmen to fight, or flee with their families. This puts some rebel gunmen out of action for a while.

Over the last three months, the fighting in northern Kachin State has spread, as the army tries to catch up with the armed rebels. The army is mostly concerned protecting dams and hydroelectric facilities seized or threatened by the tribal rebels, and freeing Chinese workers. The fighting has caused over a thousand casualties so far, many of them civilians. As usual, the tribal rebels do not confront the more heavily armed soldiers directly. The soldiers, in turn, often use their artillery against tribal villages.

The various tribal rebel groups have responded with terror attacks against government attacks throughout the north. This includes stopping busses, letting the passengers go, and then destroying the vehicle. Bombs are also planted near government facilities, especially those serving the security forces. Railroad tracks have been wrecked. There are sniping incidents, and an effort to make government employees feel uneasy in the tribal north.

As a result of last November's elections (and fears that this meant more attacks in the north), six tribal armies from among the Karen, Chin, Kachin, Mon and Shan people in the north formed a defensive union. The tribes believe they would be attacked once the voting was over, and they were sort of correct. The tribesmen know the new "democracy" is a sham, and just the same old military dictatorship in new clothes.

The new anti-government alliance has gone further and attacked the heroin operations of pro-government tribes. The growing (or returning) heroin trade is also a source of income for the government, and the government is unhappy with these losses. To make matters worse, some of the heroin producing operations are now paying the tribal rebels for protection. Meanwhile, the government destroys poppy fields belonging to hostile tribes. Overall, in the decade after 1996, opium and heroin production has declined nearly 90 percent in Myanmar, but has been making a comeback the last few years. The government has encouraged some tribes to switch sides, and oppose the rebel tribes, by giving them permission to grow poppies (which produces opium and, with a chemical transformation, heroin). In the last year, Burmese heroin went from five percent of the world's supply, to over 12 percent.

The government has sent troops to cope with, or defeat, all the tribal insurrections. The army always has the advantage in that they can hurt the tribes (by attacking villages, crops and families), while the tribal rebels have never been able to get an equivalent terror campaign going in the more densely populated (and heavily policed) south. But the army operations are expensive. The fuel, ammo and additional supplies of all kinds are costly. Then there is the medical care for soldiers who are killed or injured (or become sick). Operating in that rough country is dangerous, and expensive.

July 7, 2011:  In Kachin state, tribal rebels ambushed an army convoy with roadside bombs and rifles. At least 30 soldiers were killed.

July 4, 2011: In eastern Karen state, a pro-government tribal faction defeated their rebel counterparts and regained control of the BGF (Border Guard Force) headquarters for Karen state. Over the last decade, the government has had some success enlisting some tribal factions into the armed forces (usually to guard the borders.) But this is unpopular, as most of the smugglers tend to be tribesmen, and it's considered bad manners for one tribesman to mess with another's livelihood.



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