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Weekly Highlights: Burma Army Sets Out a Pattern of Offensives for 2014

March 3, 2014

MYANMAR-UNREST-ETHNICAs the peace process stalls, more and more reports are emerging of clashes between the Burma Army and ethnic armed groups  northern Burma; the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Shan State Army – South (SSA-South) and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).  Yet as highlighted by a report released by Ta’ang Women’s Organization (TWO), it is the civilians on the ground who are experiencing the most suffering, as human rights violations committed by the Burma Army continue as militarization and conflict in ethnic areas increase.

On 23 February, a combined force of Burma Army and its proxy, Border Guard Force (BGF), attacked a SSA-South position in Mongton, Shan State, while the TNLA reported that their troops were attacked while they were carrying out drug eradication activities in Namhsan, Kutkai, and Manton townships, northern Shan State. Since 31 January, the Burma Army has also taken three KIA outposts and seized a Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) county office.  This follows on from a pattern of greater militarization and increased troop movements in these areas. The Burma Army is reportedly building a road in order to have greater access to KIA Brigade One areas and rotating troops on the frontlines.

The report released by TWO confirms this increased militarization, outlining how the number of Burma Army battalion in Ta’ang areas has increased from 16 to 30 last year, which, according to the report, contradicts the “Burmese government’s claims to be seeking a peaceful settlement to the ethnic conflict.” Of course this militarization and escalation in conflict has severe impacts on the civilian populations of these ethnic areas. Since offensives were launched against the KIA in June 2011, around 100,000 have been displaced while the TWO report states that 4,000 Ta’ang people have been driven from their homes. Human rights violations are also occurring on a regular basis. The report highlights cases of torture, sexual abuse and forced labor such as portering, committed by the Burma Army. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has highlighted the case of Laphai Gham, a Kachin farmer who was taken away from an IDP camp and severely tortured to extract a confession. He is still in jail.

It is worrying that as the government’s chief peace negotiator, Minister Aung Min, and his peace team prepare for the next round of talks, the Burma Army is increasing its presence and its offensives, especially in northern Burma. There is a huge trust deficit between the Burma government and ethnic nationalities, yet continuing offensives, increased militarization, and more human rights violations are becoming an established pattern in 2014 in Kachin and northern Shan States.

A US embassy official in Rangoon recently stated that the goal of the US is “to promote the professionalization of the Burmese Armed Forces—and we define that to include accountability, civilian control, understanding of, and adherence to, international law, and the protection of human rights.” This echoes the stated aims of the UK government in its engagement with the Burma Army. Yet despite the political reforms that have been made in Burma in the last few years, one institution which has not reformed at all is the Burma Army and the road to achieving the above mentioned objectives hasn’t even started yet. The international community must apply more pressure to reform the Burma Army, and to find a political solution that reduces its dominance in the political arena and serves to protect the people of Burma rather than waging war in ethnic areas. Otherwise, the road of displacement, human rights abuses and conflict that has been trodden for over sixty years by Burma’s ethnic nationalities will have no end in sight.

News Highlights

New Constitutional Amendment Implementing Committee is to focus on removing the military’s veto on constitutional change under clause 436 of the 2008 Constitution while veteran NLD leader Win Tin discusses constitutional amendments with radical Buddhist monk Wirathu, in particular clause 59(f) which bars Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency

The government orders Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to cease operations in Arakan State on the grounds that the organization is “fuelling tensions and are detrimental to the rule of law” after treating 22 individuals injured during the massacre of Rohingya people in Du Char Yar Tan village and Mercy Malaysia temporarily removes its staff from duty in Rakhine State following the heightened tension

Inside Burma

Parliament’s lower house passes an amended version of the Anti-Terror Bill

Parliament appoints commission to battle corruption but opposition MPs question its make-up, including the former military major general appointed by President Thein Sein as Chair

Government officials in Mandalay are accused of bias in their handling of rallies in connection with proposed constitutional amendments as well as of imposing press restrictions

Parliamentary Committee for Rule of Law, Peace and Stability entrusts an organising committee with establishing a Burma bar association for lawyers within a year

Rangoon’s regional government is urged to find a proper solution for squatters

Despite calls to delay the entire census survey, data collection to start early in ethnic Wa areas due to anticipated logistical delays while the United Nations Population Fund has defended its decision to begin data collection stating that a delay in “the census at this stage would be an enormous waste of resources already committed”

National League for Democracy to hold its first nationwide youth congress in April

Despite local disapproval, Government authorities and project operators of the Latpadaung copper mine to relocate a Latpadaung monastery


Burma is likely to cut back expenditure for ASEAN meetings in favor of critical areas such as health, education, business and technology

Thai oil and gas giant, PTTP, announces it will invest $3.3billion in oil and gas ventures in Burma over the next five yearsDelays in implementing a labor agreement between Thailand and Burma due to House dissolution  in Thailand may worsen human trafficking in Thailand   

A new independant research center, Pyi Duang Su Institute for Peace and Dialogue (PI), opens in Chiang Mai offering “technical assistance” to stakeholders in the Peace process 


UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana, says he is “very happy” that human rights have been near the top of the Burma government’s reform agenda, meanwhile the Arakan Social Network accuses him of bias in his comments about the recent violence in Arakan State

United States plans future arms deal with Burma, if Burma’s human rights records improve while the US Department’s annual human rights report finds that widespread human rights abuses are continuing in Burma

The International Finance Corporation, an arm of the World Bank, agrees to assist the privatization of government-owned power distributor and take an equity stake to improve Myanmar’s electricity service


Burma: A Nation Living a Lie
By Kyaw Zwa Moe
The Irrawaddy

Is Burma on the right path to reform?
Shew Aung

This post is in: Weekly Highlights