Myanmar: The War In The North Gets A Rain Delay

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August 22, 2015: The usual violence has been largely absent since July because of the extremely bad weather. Much of the country suffered the worst flooding in 60 years. This came about because of excessive monsoon rains at the same time a major cyclone (hurricane) hit the west coast. The monsoon rains appear each year starting in May time and drench South Asia, but depending on oceanic weather conditions, vary in intensity, timing and duration. In Burma there are two monsoons, one in the south and one in the north separated by a break in July. There was no break this year and added to all that water hitting the Irrawaddy river system there was a major cyclone at the same time. Although the floods have only killed about a hundred people so far, secondary deaths from food and medical shortages will be much higher. For nearly half a million Burmese there were heavy economic costs. Lost jobs, homes and businesses will take years to recover from. Meanwhile weather experts say it is highly likely that another period of major rains can be expected in September or October. Even with continued flooding the fighting up north will resume before the end of the year.  In part this is because the corruption that typically accompanies relief efforts. Foreign aid agencies have long complained about this and the northern tribes often respond to this stealing with violence. This response, since the 2011 elections the new Burmese government took over, has spread to other parts of the country. Add to this the national elections in November, which will probably go ahead, then the year is likely to end with a bang, or rather multiple bangs and booms.  

The Irrawaddy River defines Burma because its 2,700 kilometers length extends all the way from northern Burma (Kachin State) to the Irrawaddy Delta in the southern tip of Burma. Some 32 million people live in the 413,000 square kilometer river basin. That’s over 60 percent of the Burmese population. When the Irrawaddy has major floods everyone in Burma feels it, directly or indirectly. But in addition to stopping the fighting all the flooding cripples the economy and the transportation system. Food and emergency supplies for flood victims and refugees from the violence take much longer to get through. Even the third of Burmese who suffered no direct impact from all the flooding have felt the overall impact on the national economy and transportation system.

Meanwhile the latest round of peace talks with the tribal rebels in the north are failing for the usual reason; the various tribal factions cannot agree on what terms to accept from the government. Thus some factions are willing to settle for less than other factions. This happens a lot and the army sees it as a major advantage as the tribal rebels are a lot easier to deal with if they are not united.

Meanwhile in parts of the northern hill country where the floods are not a factor the army continues to use its control of the roads to block aid from reaching tribal refugees. The tribal rebels do the same against army supply convoys but the army can maintain its blockades full time while the rebels can only manage the occasional (and often quite risky) ambush.

As if the government does not have enough problems India is continuing to pressure Burma into arresting the four senior leaders of a an Indian tribal rebel group (Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang or NSCN-K) which India believes responsible for the June 4th rebel ambush near the Burmese border. In July Burma openly declared that it would cooperate with India to prevent Indian tribal rebels from using bases inside Burma. As part of that agreement several thousand additional Burmese troops were moved in to improve security along the 1,643 kilometer long border with India. Burma admits it is 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.  The cooperation with India goes beyond sharing intelligence and coordinating security operations on both sides of the border. There were apparently several secret clauses in this agreement, one of them involving the arrest and transfer to India of certain rebel leaders. The problem with Burma going after the four NSCN-K leaders is that these rebels recruit from both sides of the border. While most of the Naga people (over two million) live in India, several hundred thousand live in Burma. Many of these Naga believe in the NSCN-K cause; a separate Naga state containing all Naga in India and Burma. There is very little Naga violence in Burma because there is an unwritten (but long observed) agreement that keeps the Naga quiet in Burma as long as NSCN-K can establish bases in northern Burma and its leaders can travel freely in Burma. India believes the June 4th NSCN-K ambush that killed 18 soldiers was a major escalation of Naga violence and justifies Burma taking action to help bring the four Naga leaders to justice. Indian media recently revealed this secret agreement and now Burma is under even more pressure to decide. This is one of those problems with no beneficial solution, at least for Burma. The most likely outcome is that the four Naga leaders will somehow manage to get out of Burma and find sanctuary somewhere else. This could get interesting for the Burmese government because the Indians have their own sources inside the Burmese government and this Naga thing could escalate.

August 18, 2015: In northeastern Shan state Kokang rebels used a remotely detonated roadside bomb against an army convoy. This left one soldier dead and two wounded.

August 17, 2015: The government has again extended (for another 90 days) the state of emergency (martial law) in northeastern Shan state. This state of emergency was first declared in February to deal increasing clashes between Kokang tribal rebels of the MNDAA (Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army) and the army.

 

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