Friday, June 12, 2009

The Neighborhood Bully

The Irrawaddy News

One of the favorite tactics of the Burmese junta is its “bully” policy. The latest attacks against the army of the Karen National Union (KNU) on the Thailand-Burma border are proof.

The troops of the military regime and its ceasefire group, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, have launched sustained clashes since early June. In two weeks, the conflict has forced at least 4,000 Karen refugees to flee their villages and many are arriving in refugee camps on the Thai-Burmese border.

The current rainy season is an unusual time for the regime to launch its military campaign, with about 9,000 soldiers in the area.

This military campaign is linked by three factors: Aung San Suu Kyi, Thailand and the KNU rebels.

A few days after Suu Kyi was charged with breaching the terms of her house arrest, Thailand, as the current chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), took an unusual step by denouncing the junta’s trial of Suu Kyi and calling for her immediate release.

The generals were furious and responded by attacking the Thai government in state-run newspapers, which said the announcement by Thailand interfered in the internal affairs of an Asean member country and disregarded the principle of non-interference in the Asean charter.

Since then, the two governments have exchanged verbal volleys, and the junta continues to publish critical articles on Thailand’s stance.

One of the consequences of Burma’s offensive against the KNU is that many Karen villagers strike out for one of the Karen refugee camps on the border, where hundreds of thousand of Karen refugees now live in nine camps.

Thailand now faces a fresh flow of Karen refugees. On Monday, the Thai army commander, Lt-Gen Thanongsak Aphirakyothin, whose unit operates along Thailand’s western border, said that a total of 1,741 Karen have entered Thailand from eastern Burma since the fighting started. Many are believed still to be in hiding in the jungle in Burma.

“They fled because of the danger and fear of capture and forced labor by the Myanmar [Burma] army, the commander told reporters in Mae Sot. “Most of the refugees are women and children.”

David Takarpaw, vice chairman of the KNU, said on Friday, “The attack is continuous,” meaning Thailand can expect more refugees in the coming months.

Thailand, which has caused political problems for the regime, now has a problem of its own caused by Burma.

Isn’t it an act of bullying?

However, an article published on Thursday in the junta’s newspaper, New Light of Myanmar, sees it differently.

“Thailand is self-conscious about the issues on internally displaced persons (IDP) and refugees which have rooted [sic] in the Thai-Myanmar border for ages,” the newspaper said. “The root cause of issues on IDP and refugees in the Thai-Myanmar border is that they (Thailand) accept and let the problems keep on taking place.” (JEG's: which is true)

The article continued: “The remnant KNU troops have showed no sign of making peace with the government. (JEG's: this echos what the Int'l community wants from the junta but to not avail yet) Apparently, that is due to the fact that the remnant KNU members are aided and abetted, and KNU stations under the name of refugee camps are accepted.”

The article accused Thailand of offering its soil to insurgent groups and anti-government political groups.

The generals in Naypyidaw have faced mounting international, regional and internal problems since they took power in 1988. But after Suu Kyi’s trial last month, the problems intensified even more.

Whenever the generals face problems, they use their ‘bully’ policy, among others. They are now bullying Suu Kyi, Thailand and the KNU.

The more pressure the generals face in the future, the more you’ll see their bully policy at work.

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