The 700,000 Burmese Rohingya Moslem refugees in Bangladesh are still stuck there. The Burmese government insists that only validated Burmese residents will be allowed back and the verification process is stalled. Burma is only approving about seven percent of the names Bangladesh presents as authentic Burmese Rohingya. The repatriation back to Burma of was supposed to begin in January but continued army violence against Rohingya still in Burma made that impossible. Added to that were the administrative problems and so much more. Those Rohingya going back must do so voluntarily but there have been many reports of Rohingya refugee camp leaders putting Rohingya on the “will return” list even if the refugee does not want to return. This abuse of the lists may have to do with corruption or Rohingya politics. There has been some violence in the camps over this issue and others.
Back in Burma UN officials report that adequate preparations have not been made to handle a large scale return of Rohingya. A further complication is that those Rohingya willing to return want to return to their homes. If their home was destroyed (as many were during the military violence) the returnees want an opportunity to rebuild and for the government to supply money and supplies to make that possible. That would be difficult because in many of the areas Rohingya fled from local officials have treated the former Rohingya property as “abandoned” and available or resale and reuse. Rohingya refugees are aware of this and will not return until the government clears up the property ownership issues. That happening is considered an impossible dream by all concerned. As a result, many Rohingya refugees are seeking new homelands. Bangladesh is not considered a good candidate because the country is already crowded and poor and long the source of illegal migrants to other nations. At the moment Moslem refugees are a hard sell, even in Moslem countries. No one is willing to take a lot of Rohingya and Bangladesh does not like being stuck with these large refugee camps near the Burmese border.
Facebook The Foreign Oppressor
Facebook, a popular form of mass communications in Burma has announced that it is increasing its staff of Burmese speakers so that “hate speech” can be deleted. This caused an uproar in Burma where both the government and opposition groups wanted to know why a foreign company is spying on Burmese Facebook users by scanning private messages and deleting those the Americans decide are improper. Since the return of democracy in 2011 more Burmese have had access to the Internet and social media. Facebook is an international favorite and by 2016 ten million Burmese were users. That’s about a fifth of the population and since neither the government nor anyone else could censor Facebook it became the gathering place for all sorts of groups. This included the Buddhist nationalists who called for the expulsion of the Rohingya minority. Recently the head of Facebook came under growing political pressure to justify censorship of Facebook users and define exactly what criteria is used to determine what is forbidden speech. This is a contentious issue in the United States where the constitution explicitly allowed freedom of speech. Most other nations, even in the democratic West, have no such guarantees. Even so, Facebook users in other nations don’t care for Facebook taking away their free speech online.
April 11, 2018: The army has sentenced seven soldiers (four officers and three NCOs) to ten years in prison for the murder of ten Rohingya men in 2017. Two Burmese journalists working for a foreign news operation (Reuters) who reported the murder were subsequently arrested (for exposing state secrets) and are still being held. The military has always been hostile to any media poking around in the north and before the new 2011 constitution journalists who ventured north would often just disappear.
April 6, 2018: In the north (Kachin State) KIA rebels raided a small army base at night and captured it. Over a dozen soldiers were captured, some of them wounded. The KIA looted the base and left the 13 wounded soldiers behind after the army sent two armed helicopters to attack the base. This is part of a KIA counter offensive against the expanded army presence in KIA controlled territory. This is a continuation of an army offensive that began at the end of 2017 to halt illegal (not paying a “tax” to the army) mining of amber and gold. Control of these mines helps finance the KIA, which has refused to participate in peace talks. The KIA still controls large portions of Kachin state but the army is spread thin and distracted by the Rohingya situation. Meanwhile, over 100,000 locals have been driven from their homes by the fighting and most of the gold and amber mining operations are still shut down, leaving the miners destitute. For the locals, the KIA offensive is popular. Moreover, many of the gold and amber mining operations are legitimate companies recognized by the government. The army incursion is seen as another example of the military acting like outlaws in the north.
Sometimes the rebels can do what the army does and go total outlaw. That is currently happening in nearby Shan state where two rival rebel groups, the RCSS (Restoration Council of the Shan State Army) and TNLA (Tang National Liberation Army), have been fighting for control of disputed territory. In areas where the issue has been settled many villagers driven from their homes by the fighting are reluctant to return home because the rebels have a reputation for demanding payment from locals.
April 3, 2018: In the south (Bago) a Burmese Air Force F-7 jet fighter crashed after takeoff for a training flight. The cause was a mechanical failure. The pilot ejected but was injured and later died. The F-7 is the Chinese clone of the Russian MiG-21.
March 31, 2018: In the far north (Kachin state) border guards note that India has increased patrols, particularly where the borders of India, China and Burma meet. India wants to detect new Chinese incursions into disputed Indian territory as quickly as possible so the Chinese can be confronted before they can become too established (by erecting structures and building roads). China claims much northeastern India but has no similar claims on Burmese territory.
March 30, 2018: The newly elected Burmese president said he would work to change the constitution that grants the army a lot of political power and bars Aung San Suu Kyi from running for president. The 2011 constitution gives the military control of all the security forces (police, border patrol and so on) as well as 25 percent of the seats in parliament. A few other items were added as well, like barring Aung San Suu Kyi (a key leader in the effort for forces the generals from power) from high office. Changing the 2011 constitution won’t be easy, even is such a move is supported by most Burmese. The military will not surrender their constitutional privileges willingly and have been cultivating their relationship with the Chinese. But the Burmese generals really have few friends as the Chinese will do business with whoever is in power.
March 28, 2018: Chinese officials, during a meeting with leaders of the Northern Alliance (a Burmese rebel coalition that operates near the Chinese border) told the rebels that they must not cooperate with Rohingya Islamic terror group ARSA (Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army) because that group has connections to Chinese Uighur Islamic terrorists. The Chinese threat has weight behind it since the Northern Alliance survives by maintaining good relations with China and free access to China for sanctuary and a source of supplies. Northern Alliance members finance themselves by producing illegal drugs and various other illegal activities (like smuggling). The Chinese warning is mainly aimed at the AA (Arakan Army). AA leaders denied that they supported any form of religious radicalism and said they consider Rohingya Bengali people whose citizenship status is something for the Burma government to decide. In other words, the AA does not want to make an enemy of China.