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Thingyan Bombing Shows Instability Under SPDC Rule

By Burma Partnership  •  April 26, 2010

On 15 April 2010, a string of bomb explosions in Rangoon brutally interrupted the city’s Thingyan festivities, leaving 170 civilians injured and killing 10. The three blasts rocked the city at 3pm in a lakeside park pavilion sponsored by Than Shwe’s grandson. While not entirely unprecedented in a country marked by civil unrest, the recent bombings were the deadliest since those on 7 May 2005, which resulted in 19 deaths and over 150 injured.

The recent bombings have been condemned by members of the National League for Democracy (NLD), who declared that “acts that injure the public are unacceptable”. Burma’s government in exile, the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), echoed these sentiments, asserting that “this crime must be condemned, whoever committed it”.

It is still unclear who is responsible for the bombings. Yet as usual, the junta was quick to accuse “terrorist insurgents… who are making attempts to undermine peace and stability and development of the State” with state newspapers citing opposition groups including Karen National Union (KNU) and the All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF) as suspects, without providing any evidence. Journalist and former political prisoner Maung Zeya and his son were arrested on 17 April, two days after the bombings.

The SPDC’s accusations fit a preexisting pattern; past bombings have similarly resulted in arrests of political activists and accusations towards exile groups. Promptly after the bombings in May 2005, the SPDC blamed four opposition groups: Karen National Union (KNU), Kareni National Progressive Party (KNPP), Shan State Army (SSA), and National Coalition Government for the Union of Burma (NCGUB).

The Thingyan bombings present the SPDC with another opportunity to target ethnic nationalities and border-based groups during this tense period. This week marks the latest deadline for ceasefire groups to join the junta’s Border Guard Force (BGF). General Htay Maung, Chairman of the Karen Peace Council, a splinter group of the Karen National Union, sent a scathing 7-page letter to the SPDC’s Chief of Military Intelligence declaring that they would never join the BGF or the latest proposed “Burma Army Militia Group”. The New Mon State Party also rejected both the junta’s BGF and militia proposals as they prepared to move to new bases in the jungle in preparation for conflict.

With less than a few weeks until the deadline for existing party registration and the elections set for later this year, this is also an opportune time for the SPDC to crackdown on opposition groups and attempt to capture the public’s support. Coupled with the sophistication of the grenades, the timely attacks have prompted analysts to question the regime’s innocence. “One could speculate — although you wouldn’t do this in many other countries, but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility here — that the government is behind this,” noted Benjamin Zawacki, an Amnesty International researcher. “It could be a reverse-psychology ploy to get more sympathy in advance of the election.” Others have commented that the bombings could have been an act from within the security apparatus, carried out by those who are discontent under the current regime.

In another worrying development, the SPDC has announced plans to enact an anti-terrorism law before the end of the year. With no existing anti-terrorism law, the new law will likely enable the regime to place harsher punishments on suspected “terrorists” and those who support them; this law is another means to arrest and imprison activists that pose a threat to the SPDC’s power.

The junta cannot be absolved of responsibility, be they directly or indirectly to blame. The SPDC has created an environment that breeds instability and discontent; with tensions high surrounding the elections, the threat of violence and bombings is unlikely to disappear. Such violence against innocent civilians is not the means to achieve national reconciliation or genuine democracy, but under the junta’s repressive control, the violence is likely to continue.

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