Myanmar: China Tries To Be The Good Guy


May 20, 2013: The anti-Moslem violence in Burma has generated a lot of negative media attention in Moslem nations. Some Islamic radicals have threatened violence, and in Indonesia police recently uncovered a radical group that was planning to attack the Burmese embassy there. In the last two weeks seven of these Islamic terrorists were killed during at least ten police raids. Several more terrorists were arrested and weapons and documents seized during these operations. The Indonesian situation was the exception, with most other Moslem countries sending aid and not violent terrorists.

Thousands of Moslems are returning to the homes they fled from during the March violence in Meikhtila (central Burma). The anti-Moslem riots left 43 people (mostly Rohingya Moslems) dead. Dozens were arrested (half of them Moslems) and charged with instigating the violence. Weeks of unrest drove at least 12,000 people from their homes and saw some Moslem neighborhoods burned to the ground. Homes and businesses that were not destroyed were looted. The Moslems are angry over the damage, as well as the prosecution of Moslems, but not Buddhists, for the violence. Most of the victims were Moslem, but the Buddhist dominated courts are concentrating on trials for Moslems who fought back. More Moslems are organizing defenses against Buddhist mobs. This includes organizing militias and building fences and barricades and letting Buddhist radicals know that any attack will be met with deadly violence against the invading Buddhists. This appears to have prevented some attacks, as Buddhist mobs that would normally keep going and trash Moslem neighborhoods now halt and withdraw when it is obvious that there will be a violent resistance.

Chinese officials expect their new 793 kilometer natural gas pipeline, from Burmese gas fields on the coast near the Bangladesh border, to southern China will be finished by the end of the month. But usage of the pipeline will be delayed until deals can be made to placate tribal rebels. The tribesmen accuse local government officials of stealing the money Chinese companies paid for tribal land bought for the pipeline to China. The officials were middlemen and were supposed to make sure the tribal families got the amount they were due. Instead the corrupt officials kept most of the money for themselves. This sort of thing has been going on for some time and is the main reason the northern tribes are still in a state of rebellion. What has changed is the new elected government and the repeal of the old media laws that restricted what could be reported. Now, privately owned media can report about the many corrupt practices that thrived under the military dictatorship. There is plenty to report because the tribesmen often have no records indicating who owns what and are no match for lawyers and businessmen from the south who show up and suddenly “own” land that has been used by local tribes for centuries.

The Chinese government has advised Chinese firms operating in Burma to be friendlier and especially more cooperative with the Burmese media. The misdeeds of corrupt Burmese officials are often being blamed on the Chinese. While the Chinese firms in the north don’t care if they screw the locals, they have largely met the terms of agreements with the locals. It’s the Burmese officials who are responsible for most of the bad behavior. So the Chinese government is telling these Chinese firms to get on the side of the angels or risk losing billions in investments.

May 13, 2013: In the north SSA-S (Shan State Army–South) rebels attacked a government oil company compound, killing two and wounding four. This attack was to protest government cooperation with Chinese companies that are building an oil pipeline through the area. The tribes feel exploited and wants more compensation for the disruption.

May 9, 2013: On the Chinese border troops attacked and captured an outpost long held by the SSA-S tribal rebels. Some 2,000 local villagers fled the 500 advancing troops. There were only about 200 rebels in the area. The army fired artillery at known rebel bunkers, which were often near villages. Some shells fell on the Chinese side of the border, which apparently did some damage to a temple there.  Fighting with SSA-S has been going on since January, when troops began advancing into tribal territory in violation of a December, 2011 peace deal. This has led to a growing number of skirmishes and, in the last few months, over 5,000 villagers have fled the violence. There have been over fifty such clashes in the last six months and this has been one of the largest. The army is apparently also trying to interfere with the tribal drug operations up north. The SSA-S is allied with the neighboring UWSA, 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 the meth labs are believed to produce several hundred million tablets a year. The tribal rebels, especially the UWSA, use the profits to buy more weapons for their fighters and run their rebel organizations. 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 officially renew the fighting.

May 4, 2013: Karen tribal rebels have refused to withdraw their gunmen from the site of a Chinese dam construction site in the north. Opposition from the tribes up north has halted billions of dollars’ worth of Chinese construction projects in the north. These include dams, pipelines, and mining operations.

For the first time there has been anti-Moslem violence in the north, where most of the people are tribal and Christian. Two Christians were arrested for attacking Moslem owned shops in Kachin state.

May 2, 2013: The U.S. has extended its economic sanctions against Burma for another year, as part of an effort to get the government to speed up its political and economic reforms and do something about the anti-Moslem violence. 


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