By Elizabeth Kendal
Burma/Myanmar is indeed the Sudan of Asia and the regime's recent reforms are nothing more than the calculated steps of a brutal Burman-Buddhist-supremacist regime determined to advance its own interests and ensure its own survival. Through these token reforms, the regime hopes to pacify the Burman-Buddhist masses and create a smokescreen around the centre, behind which it can pursue its brutal policies of racial and religious hatred; policies aimed at the subjugation and even extermination of the non-Burman, non-Buddhist ethnic minorities that live around Burma's periphery.
Burma's reforms: not 'democracy', just interests and smokescreens
Burma has been subject to Western political and economic sanctions for decades on account of its repression of democracy. However, since the mid-1990s ascendant China has been taking Burma into its embrace, supplying it with loans and commodities, trading freely and building infrastructure -- but not out of benevolence. China is pursuing its own interests, in particular its interest in gaining access to Burmese ports on the Bay of Bengal, where there has long been a power vacuum. Motivated by this threat, the US is now pursuing engagement with Burma. Consequently Burma's geo-strategic value is rising in line with China's economic and military ascendancy, which means Burma (like Indonesia -- RLPB 119) can now play geo-politics to its own advantage. To this end, the regime is welcoming the US overtures as they offer a way to counter the anti-China sentiment rising inside Burma.
[While China's largess might have neutralised the impact of Western sanctions, many amongst the junta's powerful elite are not happy to see Burma becoming a client state of their former enemy. Many of Burma's military elite fought and lost comrades in the war that raged from 1968 to 1978 between the Burmese nationalists and the China-backed Communist Party of Burma (CPB). The fact that China continues to support the United Wa State Army (the successor to the CPB) is a sore point for many military elites; furthermore, it raises the spectre of Chinese duplicity. Further to this, Chinese goods have flooded the markets and Chinese firms are buying up the land, causing social tensions to escalate.]
The West is highly excited over Burma's recent reforms: the release of some 200 political prisoners (despite over 1000 still behind bars); talks held with Aung San Suu Kyi ; improvements in press freedom and the introduction of debate into its parliament.
See: Burma: At freedom’s gate
By Amy Kazmin, Financial Times, 24 October 2011
The Burmese, however, are more sceptical. The reforms really do need to be seen in the light of Burmese domestic realities. Domestically, the regime wants to lessen its dependence on China. It also wants to chair the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2014 (which will be decided this month ).
The only reform that has really captured the imagination of the Burmese is the regime's 30 September decision to suspend until 2015 the immensely controversial Myitsone Dam Project in Kachin State. A joint project between the previous Burmese junta and the China Power Investment Corporation, the Myitsone Dam project was not only opposed by the Kachin -- a Christian people whose lands would have been decimated -- but by many Burmese. For not only would 90 percent of the output and 70 percent of the profits go to China, but the impact on the Irrawaddy River -- Burma's life source -- would be catastrophic. So even this move must be seen in the context of the regime's survival strategy amidst Burma's internal reality of high anti-China sentiment.
See: A Case of Mistaken Priorities
By Aung Zaw, Friday, October 21, 2011
China behind Myanmar's course shift
By Bertil Lintner, Asia Times Online, 19 Oct 2011
DAM SUSPENDED YET WAR CONTINUES
Whilst the regime has suspended the Myitsone Dam Project, its war on the Christian Kachin -- a war triggered in part by the dam project (see Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin RLPBs 114 (28 June 2011), 115 (5 July 11), 118 (27 July 11)) -- continues unabated.
One can only hope that Lindsay Murdoch is right in his assessment: "Burma's armed forces have committed serious abuses against ethnic rebels in renewed fighting, setting back efforts by the country's leaders to convince Western nations they are serious about ending 50 years of brutal military rule." (emphasis mine)
See: Burmese military abuses cast doubt on leaders' reforms
Lindsay Murdoch, Bangkok, October 20, 2011
The trouble is, with the US working to bring Burma out of China's embrace into its own so as to secure strategic gains in the Bay of Bengal, it is quite likely that the US might be keen reward the tokens while ignoring the genocide, exactly as is happening in Papua, Indonesia.
In its 18 October report, Human Rights Watch estimates that 30,000 Kachin are now displaced. Despite this, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has inexplicably downplayed the ethnic cleansing in Kachin , just as he downplayed the ethnic cleansing of Abyei, Sudan. In contrast, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, told the UN General Assembly on 19 October that recent fighting had resulted in more than 15,000 displaced Kachin being confined to a remote mountainous area on the Chinese border in conditions that can only be described as 'perilous'. According to Quintana, the UN informed the Burmese authorities that it was willing to help these Internally Displaced Persons but Thein Sein's government declined the offer.
See Quintana: Burma’s government failing to solve ethnic issues
Thursday, 20 October 2011 21:24 Thomas Maung Shwe
Further to this, Burma expert Zin Linn reports that China is blocking the delivery of food, emergency shelter and medicines, leaving some analysts wondering if Kachin State is being ethnically cleansed at China's behest.
See: Why does Burma want war in Kachin State?
By Zin Linn , for Asian Correspondent.com, Sep 26, 2011
Is Burma attempting to colonize Kachin state
By Zin Linn Jul 21, 2011
QUESTION: Is the suspension of the dam project just a smokescreen behind which Burma will have three years to ethnically cleanse Kachin State?
On 1 November 2011, Burma expert Zin Linn wrote to his blog The Democratic Question of Burma : "The Burma Army’s full-scale offensives are becoming greater than ever in Kachin State. The fighting seems vengeful as Burmese soldiers commit various crimes – such as looting, killing, raping and burning down the civilians’ villages – on the front line. [. . .] Kachin natives are singled out by the Burmese soldiers and they are not regarded as citizens of their own nation. It looks like the Burma Army has been launching a racial war. In frontline areas, Burmese soldiers are committing crimes freely as there are no effective or appropriate penalties set by senior authorities.
"The worst and concrete evidence is that the wicked Burmese Army has used a mysterious chemical weapon in the recent offensive against Kachin rebels in Northern Burma . . .
"For more than a week, Burmese soldiers used the unidentified chemical weapon in three war zones — Christian Prayer Hill and Lung Zep Kawng in Ga Ra Yang village, and Shwe Nyaung Pyin village — against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) on Myitkyina-Manmaw (Bhamo) Road in Waingmaw Township. Those events were narrated by KIA soldiers, who said they were under attack by poisonous gas.
"On October 29, Burma Army troops fired two mortar rounds of chemical weapons on the People’s Army fighters under the KIA in Prayer Hill, said civilian fighters. 'Two rounds of chemical weapons were fired at us in Prayer Hill. There were seven of us present. Dark smoke billowed from the areas where the mortar shells landed,' La Gun, a civilian fighter and a victim of the chemical weapon told Kachin News Group on Sunday. When the victims breathed the dark smoke, they felt extremely dizzy, found it hard to breathe, thirsty and vomiting for hours, according to one victim.
"The same chemical weapon was used during the week-long fighting in Lung Zep Kawng last week, La Gun said. The same day, the chemical weapon was used by the Burmese Army in Ntap Bum battle zone, near the KIA headquarters Laiza. Four KIA soldiers suffered dizziness, fell on the ground and began vomiting for a long time, said eyewitnesses.
"President Thein Sein’s government has to take responsibility for the use of such chemical weapons. . ." (emphasis mine)
See: Kachin fighters claim Burma Army using chemical weapons
By Zin Linn Nov 01, 2011
CHURCH DEEPLY IMPACTED
With the Kachin people being over 90 percent devout Christian, the Church is being hit hard. Churches in Kachin State have been attacked, seized, used as prisons and burned. The Christian Kachin are being raped, brutalised, enslaved, starved and slaughtered.
See Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) label: Burma
ALSO: Burma Army Targets Christian Civilians in War on Insurgents
Troops attack churches in Kachin state conflict.
Compass Direct News, 28 Oct 2011
Furthermore, Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported on 31 October, that in Maw Wan Ward, Phakant Township, the town administration is now requiring Christians to seek official permission to read the Bible, pray and fast, amongst other Christian 'cultural' activities. Requests must be accompanied by recommendations from other departments and must be submitted to the Township Administration Office 15 days in advance.
With war and repression escalating behind a smokescreen of token reforms from a Burman-Buddhist-supremacist regime operating from a position of increasing geo-strategic significance, the Christian Kachin need our prayers for God's intervention now more than ever.
For suggested prayer points:
RLPB 132. Burma: Interests, Smokescreens & Ethnic Cleansing