Friday, September 11, 2009

The Junta’s Twin August Offensives

The Irrawaddy News

After more than four decades of rule, the Burmese military government is confronting the two main centers of domestic opposition to its power in a bid to increase security and prolong military rule before the elections next year.

Having effectively kept pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi out of the elections by sentencing her to a further 18 months of house arrest, the military regime’s forces broke the ceasefire with ethnic groups by seizing the Kokang capital of Laogai on August 24.

Since the military regime’s attack, instability has been reverberating through Kachin State, Shan State and the towns along the Sino-Burmese border in China’s Yunnan Province.

Other ceasefire groups in northern and northeastern Burma, such as the United Wa State Army, the Kachin Independence Army and the eastern Shan State-based National Democratic Alliance Army have been building up defenses against a potential attack by regime troops.

“The [Burmese] government would like to assert more authority over the ethnic minorities in the highlands, leading to the problems of the past few days,” said Michael Charney, a Burma expert from London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies, in an email to the The Irrawaddy. The ceasefire agreements between the ethnic groups and the junta left potentially volatile situations in place, he said.

According to journalists and political observers in Rangoon, the junta is not yet ready to promulgate the election law, though the elections are scheduled to be held in 2010. With only three months remaining this year, time is running out.

If the junta wants to hold elections under the 2008 constitution, in accordance with the provisions of the constitution, it has to demonstrate that there is only one commander-in-chief and that the regime’s army is the only armed force in Burma, observer’s say.

“We can see that by sentencing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on August 11, the military regime made sure there would be no worthy political challenger in the 2010 elections. After removing her from the picture, the generals turned on their other main enemies,” said Chan Tun, a veteran politician from Rangoon.

The National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Suu Kyi, and the Wa, Kokang and Mongla ethnic ceasefire groups have called for the constitution to be reviewed before the elections.

In 2005, Wa, Kokang and the Mongla delegates to the National Convention called for full autonomy and separation from Shan State, as well as guarantees that their armed militias would remain under their control.

At the end of the fourteen-year-long national convention process in 2007, however, the junta ignored all their demands when the handpicked Constitution Drafting Committee finalized the constitution.

“After the junta ignored their demands at the national convention, the ethnic groups knew a showdown had to come soon,” said Aung Kyaw Zaw, a former communist who observes Burma military affairs from China’s Yunnan Province.

“But ceasefire groups, particularly the Kokang, failed to prepare properly, which is why Laogai fell to regime troops so easily,” he said.

The junta generals, meanwhile, must be wondering whether the simultaneous offensives against urban political opposition and ethnic ceasefire groups have been wise.

“I wonder why the regime is risking conflict with the ethnic militias now. They may want to get control before the elections—but the junta could destabilize the whole country,” said Mikeal Gravers, a Burma expert from Aarhus University, Denmark.

Charney said the Burmese junta will face many similar problems in the coming year, because the generals want ethnic and political stability in order to hold elections and conclude the domestic problems that are bringing so much international attention.

Burma Newscasts - The Junta’s Twin August Offensives
Friday, September 11, 2009

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