Myanmar: The Twilight Of The Generals

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December 13, 2015: The military situation in the north may, or may not change in 2016. That won’t be known until the new government takes control in March. Unless, of course, the army stages another coup, like it did in 1990 when a newly elected government threatened the power and privileges of the generals. The new government intends to do just that.

In the north, mainly in Shan state, the army has continued to defeat the rebels mainly by outmaneuvering and threatened to surround them. Over 10,000 civilians (most of them SSA-N supporters) have been forced to flee their homes in the past few weeks. The military is using airstrikes and artillery against villages, to either kill rebels there or force the civilians to flee. In mid-October the government signed another peace treaty with eight tribal rebel groups. Not signing were several other groups, especially the TNLA (Tang National Liberation Army), KIA (Kachin Independence Army), Kokang, SSA-N (Shan State Army-North) and Arakan Army which are currently fighting the army. Most of these defiant rebel groups are still fighting because the army has continually violated the 2012 ceasefire. The army continues the decades old offensive against the tribal rebels mainly because it is profitable to do so.

A November 22nd mining disaster in the north (Kachin State) killed over a hundred people and brought rebel commander Wei Hsueh Kang a lot of unwanted publicity because of his control of the Jade trade. Burma is the main source of jade on the planet and exports about $4 billion worth each year. Yet only about one percent of that is taxed and half of the jade is found by illegal mining operations and is quietly sold to Chinese traders. Most of the illegal jade trade is controlled by generals who have connections inside China. The rest is controlled by rebels, mainly the Wa of the UWSA (United Wa State Army). Most of the jade is in the northern tribal territories and the army is constantly fighting with tribal rebels who are seeking to make some money in the jade producing areas. The military men are not giving up all their illegal businesses and the government, despite the 2011 elections that bought a civilian government to power. So far no one is willing to force the issue, at least not yet, especially when it comes to the lucrative illegal jade trade. A lot of the current fighting in Kachin State is a continuation of this decades old “Jade War.”

While the army get a large cut of the jade profits most of the jade operations are managed by Wa leaders. The biggest operator here is Wei Hsueh Kang, a powerful and wealthy Wa businessman who also controls much of the heroin and meth business. Because of that the United States offers a $2 million reward for the death or capture of Kang. The Wa live in Shan state near the Chinese border. Along the Chinese border (Kachin and Shan states) the UWSA is a major factor and the Burmese army tends to respect UWSA military capabilities. Half the tribal militiamen in the far north belong to the UWSA, which has over 20,000 armed men operating along the Chinese border. The Wa are ethnic (Han) Chinese, and many other Wa live across the border in China. Wei Hsueh Kang was born in China of Wa parents. The Chinese have made it clear to the Burmese government that any attack on the Wa would not be appreciated and have pressured the Burmese on behalf of the Wa in the past. The Wa are also the leader of a loose coalition of tribal rebels in the north who have, like the Wa, refused to sign any of the peace deals the army has offered. The Wa coalition includes the KIA (Kachin Independence Army), the MNDAA (Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army), the SSA-N, the Arakan Army and the TNLA. Without the cooperation of this powerful coalition there can never be peace in the north. Thus there has been nearly continuous fighting in Shan state for years. This led to a ban on voting in much of Shan state. The fighting has been rather low level but there have been several thousand casualties this year and over 50,000 more refugees fleeing their homes since 2014.

December 8, 2015: The United States has lifted for six months the trade sanctions it has long imposed on Burma (because of decades of military dictatorships). This temporary measure is meant to show that if the newly elected government (which threatens to remove the remaining political and economic privileges of the military) is not allowed to take power in March all the sanctions will remain in place.

December 3, 2015: The Indian government said that it does not have a border dispute with Burma, despite local disagreements along some portions of the Burmese border. As far as India is concerned these disagreements are being resolved while the larger scale border problems with Pakistan and China are not.

November 27, 2015: In the north (Shan state) pro-government rebels of the SSA-S (Shan State Army-South) entered territory controlled by TNLA rebels who are still fighting the army. The TNLA accused the SSA-S of working for the army, which they were because by the end of the month soldiers joined in attacking the TNLA.

November 24, 2015: In the north (Shan state) a month of fighting between the army and the SSA-N tribal rebels resulted in the rebels retreating from several key areas and agreeing, after two days of negotiations, to accept a limited ceasefire. Not signing were several other groups, especially the TNLA, KIA, Kokang, SSA-N and Arakan Army which continue fighting the army. Most of these defiant rebel groups are still fighting because the army has continually violated the 2012 ceasefire.

 

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