A Buddhist mob attacked Muslims in Burma's second city of Mandalay July 2, damaging a mosque and Muslim-owned shops and leaving at least five injured. Police fired warning shots to disperse the mob of some 300 Buddhists, including a contingent of about 30 monks on motorbikes. The conflagration apparently began after rumors were aired on Facebook that a Buddhist domestic worker had been raped by her Muslim employers. More than a thousand police officers have been deployed in central Mandalay. (OnIslam, The Irrawady, Democratic Voice of Burma, July 2)
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in its newly released annual Southeast Asia Opium Survey (PDF) finds that opium production in Burma continued to increase in 2013—up 26% to an estimated 870 metric tons. This is the highest amount since the UN began keeping track in 2002. In 1999, the Burmese regime promised to eradicate opium production by 2014, but production has increased every year since 2006. The UNODC report acknowledges that eradication efforts have failed to address the political and economic factors that drive farmers to grow opium in the first place. With poppy fetching 19 times more than rice, struggling peasants have few other options to make a living.
On Sept. 13, the White House released its annual score card on other countries’ compliance with US drug policy demands, the presidential determination on major drug producing and trafficking countries. It identified 22 countries as "major drug transit and/or major illicit drug producing countries," but listed only three—Bolivia, Burma, and Venezuela—as having "failed demonstrably" to comply with US drug war objectives. Among those countries that are not listed as having "failed demonstrably" are the world's largest opium producer (Afghanistan), the world’s two largest coca and cocaine producers (Colombia and Peru), the leading springboard for drugs coming into the US (Mexico), and the weak Central American states that serve as lesser springboards for drug loads destined for the US. They are all US allies; Bolivia and Venezuela are not.
An in-depth Sept. 29 Reuters report on the multi-billion-dollar but very murky jade trade in Burma raises the specter of "blood jade"—without actually using the phrase. Almost half of all jade exports are "unofficial"—apparently spirited over the border into China with little or no formal taxation, representing billions of dollars in lost revenues. Official statistics are said to indicate that Burma produced more than 43 million kilograms of jade in fiscal year 2011-12, worth a low-balled $4.3 billion. Yet official exports of jade that year stood at only $34 million. (It isn't explained how all that "unofficial" jade made it into the production stats in the first place.) China doesn't publicly report how much jade it imports from Burma, but jade is included in official imports of precious stones and metals, which in 2012 were worth $293 million—a figure too small to account for billions of dollars in Burmese jade.
Public commemorations are taking place in Burma to mark the 25th anniversary of the uprisings which launched the country's pro-democracy movement—the first time the anniversary has been openly commemorated in Rangoon. Hundreds of thousands took part in the "8888" protests, which began on Aug. 8, 1988. But six weeks later, at least 3,000 protesters were dead, thousands more imprisoned, and the military firmly in control. Aung San Suu Kyi, who emerged as the leader of the pro-democracy movement and is now the opposition leader, participated in the commemorations. A new activist formation, 88 Generation, has emerged to coordinate the remembrance. The current reformist government has tacitly approved the commemoration, even though some of the former generals serving in it are implicated in the violence. (BBC News, AAP, Aug. 8)
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announced a new peace initiative in Burma's eastern Shan state June 28, aimed at facilitating poppy eradication in the world's second largest opium producer. The government has pledged to cooperate with the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), whose Shan State Army (SSA) fought for regional autonomy from 1964 until a 2011 ceasefire. Both parties and the UNODC agreed to help destitute farmers with alternative development programs. The anticipated multi-million dollar four-year plan seeks to improve the state's infrastructure, health and education. "There are increasing rates of poverty and food insecurity," said UNODC country coordinator Jason Eligh. "Opium farmers are not bad people, they are just poor and hungry."
Reuters reports that Muslims are "disappearing" from villages in central Burma, as Buddhist attacks spread from the coastal area where they began last year. A reporter in the village of Sit Kwin (Thayarwady district , Bago division, see map), says the some 100 Muslim residents have all fled, some to displaced persons camps, after a wave of attacks in which their homes, shops and mosques were destroyed, and several killed. Since 42 were killed in violence that erupted March 20 in Meikhtila town (Mandalay division), attacks led by Buddhist militants have spread to at least 10 other towns and villages in central Burma, with the latest only a two-hour drive from the commercial capital, Yangon (Rangoon). (Reuters, March 29)
Burma's persecuted Muslim Rohingya people were in the news again over the weekend with the Thai navy's denial that its forces opened fire on a group of refugees off the country's southwestern coast last month, killing at least two. Survivors said that Thai naval troops fired a boat of around 20 refugees off Thailand's Phang Nga province on Feb. 22, as they jumped into the water to escape custody. "Navy personnel fired into the air three times and told us not to move," a refugee told Human Rights Watch (HRW). "But we were panicking and jumped off the boat, and then they opened fire at us in the water." More than 100,000 Rohingyas have been displaced since ethnic violence broke out in western Burma last year. Burma refuses to recognize the Rohingya as citizens and labels the minority of about 800,000 as "illegal" immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh—which in turn disavows them as nationals. (BBC News, March 15; Press TV, March 13)