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."
Burma’s President Thein Sein asked opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Dec. 1 to head an investigation into violence over the planned expansion of the Chinese-owned Latpaduang copper mine at the northern town of Monywa (Sagaing region, see map). The move comes two days after riot police cleared protesters from the site with baton charges, water cannons, tear gas, smoke bombs and—acording to Buddhist monks on the scene—some kind of incendiary devices. At least 50 people were injured, including more than 20 monks. Acitivsts put the number of injured at nearly 100. Images from Monywa's hospital of burned monks appeared in social media and drew condemnation from around the world.
Burma announced on Nov. 14 that it has freed 452 prisoners ahead of a visit by US President Barack Obama. Burma's state-run media reported that the government has released the prisoners on humanitarian grounds and as a goodwill gesture by the nation. However, Burma's main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) criticized the government's move, saying that the government has not released any of the estimated 330 political prisoners currently incarcerated in Burma. It is unclear if any of the 452 prisoners released are political ones because the government has not provided details on which prisoners have been freed. Obama is scheduled to visit Burma on Nov. 19.
Authorities in Bangladesh say Muslim rioters over the weekend torched at least a dozen Buddhist temples and some 50 homes, in Cox's Bazar district near the Burmese border (Chittagong division, see map). Authorities said the attacks were prompted by a photo posted on Facebook that showed a local Buddhist trampling on a Koran. (Mizzima, Oct. 2; ANI, Sept. 30) After the rioting, more than 100 Buddhist monks protested at the Bangladeshi embassy in Rangoon, Burma, where a banner read "No Terrorist Muslim War on Religions." Hundreds of Buddhist monks also demonstrated in Colombo, Sri Lanka. (AP, Oct. 5; VOA, Oct. 4)
Aung San Suu Kyi's visit to the US last week won wide media attention as she met with Hillary Clinton, was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, and addressed the US Institute of Peace. (VOA, Daily Beast, Sept. 18) The world paid little note as, simultaneously, fighting flared in Burma's northern Kachin state between government troops and the Kachin Independence Army, leaving at least 150 displaced. Villagers fleeing the fighting have taken refuge in the town of Hpakant in the west of the state, with local relief groups struggling to provide assistance to displaced residents. Pastor Naw Ja of a Catholic church in Hpakant said there are about 1,000 displaced persons being sheltered in his parish after fleeing fighting in nearby villages over the past months. "There are many difficulties—there are outbreaks of diseases such as flu, diarrhea, malaria and it's getting increasingly difficult to continue providing them with food and shelter," said Naw Ja. (Democratic Voice of Burma, Sept. 25)
Six men accused of murdering 13 crew members of two Chinese merchant ships on the Mekong River last year pleaded guilty Sept. 20 at their trial in Kunming, capital of China's Yunnan province. The defendants included Naw Kham (also rendered Nor Kham), purportedly one of the most powerful warlords in the Golden Triangle opium-growing region that straddles the borders of Burma, Thailand and Laos. The crew were massacred by an armed gang that attacked two cargo ships last October. Chinese media said the gang was involved in kidnapping as well as international drug running.
For a fourth year running, the White House narcotics "blacklist" (officially the Presidential Determination on Major Illicit Drug Transit and Drug Producing Countries, released Sept. 14) named Venezuela and Bolivia as nations that have "failed demonstrably" to fight the drug trade, making them ineligible for US aid. Caracas and La Paz struck back angrily to the announcement. "Venezuela deplores the United States government's insistence on undermining bilateral relations by publishing this kind of document, with no respect for the sovereignty and dignity of the Venezuelan people," Venezuela's Foreign Ministry said, accusing Washington of a "permanent line of aggression against independent sovereign governments." Bolivian President Evo Morales said in a speech in the Andean region of Oruro: "The United States has no morality, authority or ethics that would allow it to speak about the war on drugs. Do you know why? Because the biggest market for cocaine and other drugs is the United States. They should tell us by what percentage they have reduced the internal market. The internal market keeps growing and in some states of the United States they're even legalizing the sale of cocaine under medical control." (EFE, Sept. 15)