Seven of Burma's hold-out ethnic rebel armies formed a new committee this week to prepare collective talks with the government in anticipation of the next round of peace negotiations. Participating groups in what is now being called the "Northern Alliance" were the Kachin Independence Organization/Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA), Arakan Army (AA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA), National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State (NDAA-ESS), and the United Wa State Army (UWSA). The meeting was held in Pangkham, administrative capital of the UWSA-controlled territory. After eight other northern ethnic armies have signed peace deals in recent years, these groups remain officialy at war with the Tatmadaw, the government's armed forces.
Our last annotated assessment of Barack Obama's moves in dismantling, continuing and escalating (he has done all three) the oppressive apparatus of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) must inevitably be viewed in light of the current countdown to the death of democracy and the imminent despotism of Donald Trump. The fact that the transition is happening at all is a final contradiction of Obama's legacy. He is fully cooperating in it, even as his own intelligence agencies document how the election was tainted. Following official findings that Russia meddled in the elections, the White House has slapped new sanctions on Russia—deporting 35 Russian officials suspected of being intelligence operatives and shutting down two Russian facilities in New York and Maryland, both suspected of being used for intelligence-related purposes. The latest bizarre revelation—that Russian intelligence can blackmail Trump with information about his "perverted sexual acts" involving prostitutes at a Moscow hotel—broke just hours before Obama delivered his Farewell Address in Chicago. The speech was surreally optimistic in light of the actual situation in the country, and contained only a few veiled swipes at Trump. The best of them was this: "If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and undeserving minorities, then workers of all shades will be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves."
According to official John McKissick at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on Nov. 24, members of the Rohingya community have been subjected to numerous atrocities by troops in Burma, including execution, rape, starvation and forced displacement. McKissick said the widespread violence is part of an ongoing effort by the Burmese government to "ethnically cleanse" the Muslim minority group from the country. Speaking to the BBC from the UNHCR headquarters in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, McKissick said the latest increase in violence against the Rohingya is in response to the murder of nine border guards in Burma on Oct. 9, which some Burmese politicians have blamed on a Rohingya militant group.
Towns and villages across large areas of Burma's northern Rakhine state are reported to be deserted, as terrified residents flee a new military crackdown following attacks by supposed Muslim Rohingya militants. At least 26 have been killed in the military raids, and at least hundreds displaced. Villages are said to be in flames. The military action follows attacks on three border posts along the frontier with Bangladesh Oct. 9 that authorities blamed on a previously unknown "Aqa Mul Mujahidin," said to be successor group to the supposedly disbanded Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO). The border attacks, centered on Maungdaw township, left 39 dead—nine police, four soldiers and 26 suspected militants. (Channel News Asia, Channel News Asia, Anadolu Agency, Oct. 14)
President Barack Obama once again singled out Washington's biggest political adversaries in Latin America for censure in this year's White House report on global anti-drug efforts. The annual memorandum to the State Department, "Major Drug Transit or Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries," released Sept. 12, lists 17 Latin American countries out of a total of 22 around the world. As has now become routine, Bolivia, Venezuela and Burma are blacklisted as countries that have "failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months to adhere to the obligations under international counternarcotic agreements." (InSight Crime, Sept. 13)
Human rights abuses against the Rohingya and other minorities in Burma may amount to crimes against humanity, according to a report released June 20 by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The report documents abuses against minorities that include "arbitrary deprivation of nationality, severe restriction on freedom of movement, threats to life and security, denial of rights to health and education, forced labour, sexual violence, and limitations to...political rights, among other violations." The report states that the Rohingya and Kaman Muslims continue to live in camps for internally displaced people after approximately four years since violence began in the Rakhine state. Muslims in Rakhine state are severely restricted from accessing basic healthcare, emergency medical treatment and education. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein urged the government of Myanmar to take "concrete steps to put an end to the systemic discrimination and ongoing human rights violations against minorities."
The White House has announced a partial lifting of sanctions on Burma in recognition of progress in its democratic transition. Restrictions are to be dropped on state-owned banks and businesses, although some 100 companies and individuals linked to the armed forces will remain iced. This relaxation comes at the request of longtime democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi, who although barred from holding the presidency is effectively the country’s leader following November's elections. But human rights concerns remain—especially around the fate of the Rohingya Muslims, persecuted and made stateless by the military junta that has now (mostly) surrendered power. And the multiple ethnic insurgencies in Burma's opium-producing northern mountains, while receiving less world media attention lately, continue to vex the country.
With the harvest season just weeks away, tensions are high in Burma's opium-producing Kachin state following a series of clashes between opium-growing peasants and a local citizen anti-drug movement. Pat Jasan, a patrol established two years ago by the Kachin Baptist Church, has been in repeated confrontations over the past weeks at Kachin's Waingmaw township. The most recent, on Feb. 25, resulted in at least 20 Pat Jasan followers wounded in gunfire and grenade blasts. The vigilantes were apparently set upon by a heavily-armed force while clearing poppy fields.