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)
Accused Burmese drug lord Naw Kham was executed in China on March 1 along with three accomplices in the murder of 13 Chinese merchant sailors on the Mekong River in 2011. The executions were carried out by a court in Kunming, Yunnan province. Thai national Hsang Kham, Lao national Zha Xika, and Yi Lai, who was named as "stateless," were executed by lethal injection along with Naw Kham. In an unusual move, authorities allowed state media to film Naw Kham during his transfer from a detention center to the court's execution area. China Central Television showed police removing Naw Kham's handcuffs and binding his arms behind his back with rope, a standard ritual before executions in China. The executions themselves were not broadcast, as cameras were not allowed in the death chamber. But the spectacle still sparked dissent on the Internet within China.
Following a series of raids on the strongholds of Naxalite rebels and the slaying of top commanders, authorities say the guerillas' leaders have taken refuge in India's northeastern hinterlands, seeking to regroup and resupply—through control of opium production in their traditional strongholds. Home Ministry Joint Secretary MA Ganapathy said that Naxalites in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh are producing opium in their jungle territories. "Intelligence reports say that the Maoists have joined hands with drug cartels to cultivate opium, which is subsequently delivered to the mafia, who convert raw opium into heroin and smuggle the drug outside the country," he said. The proceeds are reportedly used to purchase weapons in the northeast that come across the border from Burma.
Burmese government negotiators and representatives from the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) this week agreed to hold talks at Panghsang in northern Shan state, territory under the control of the United Wa State Army (UWSA), another rebel group that has entered into a peace deal. The KIO, the political wing of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), accepted the plan Jan. 29. No official date has been set for the talks as government troops inch closer to Laiza after taking a key KIA hill station over the weekend, which served as the last line of strategic defense for the Kachin stronghold.
The Burmese military on Jan. 2 claimed responsibility for several air-strikes against Kachin rebel positions in the country's north—less than a day after the government denied that the strikes had taken place. The military statement said that "an assault mission, utilizing air-strikes, was carried out" in the strategic Lajayang region, less than 13 kilometers from the rebels' headquarters in Laiza. This contradicts an earlier government claim that it was only using air forces to "deliver food supplies to its troops" and "to provide security for the workers who are repairing roads and bridges."