Tunnelling to nowhere out of fear

by Celeste Chenard
Friday, 12 June 2009 18:19

Mizzima News

Aung San Suu Kyi has said “Fear is a habit” in Burma. And the fear the junta has incited among its own population has in turn come to increasingly provoke fear on the part of the junta itself. While the “people are conditioned to live in fear; they fear to lose their friends, their liberty, their means of support,” continued Aung San Suu Kyi, suspicion and a lack of confidence have in turn been internalized within the mindset of the military to a state of paranoia, as they fear the loss of power.

The transfer of the capital to Naypyitaw, as one example, shows this increasing feeling of insecurity within the ranks of the junta. Analysts speculate the move of the capital was premised on one, or a combination of, the following three criteria: a return to the royal tradition and a further snub directed at British colonialism; as a further line of insulation against a popular uprising, as witnessed in 1988 and 2007; and in response to a sense of insecurity, a reaction borne out of even greater concern following the invasion of Iraq by the United States in 2003. It is indeed still highly probable the junta considers a foreign invasion possible, in particular one commanded by the CIA.
The habitual and reciprocal cycle of fear is only exacerbated with an angry population dissatisfied with military governance, tired of political repression and losing patience with the inability of the regime to effectively address the economic situation. Moreover, the international outcry against the junta is becoming more and more virulent in a time of enhanced political tension surrounding the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Fear and paranoia on the part of the leaders not only raises the potency of the regime directed at the population, but heightens the paranoia of the leaders of the Tatmadaw as well.

Since Ne Win, Burma’s leaders have exhibited a pathological mistrust and fear of everything from abroad. This paranoia is not simply due to a whimsical desire of the military to cling to power. Overcome with a mentality of feeling surrounded by hostile forces, a spirit of isolationism on the part of the military is at the same time an attempt to feel secure.

The Generals have attained such a level of paranoia and fear of the “other”, originating from either inside or outside the country, that, as is now proven, they have constructed tunnel networks to serve as emergency shelters.

Burma analyst and author Bertil Lintner, writing for Yale Global Online on Tuesday, revealed how North Korea has been secretly helping Burma to build a tunnel complex around Naypyitaw, among other strategic locations. Speculated to have begun in 2003, the tunnels, it is believed, are now ready for use.

“North Korean technicians have helped them construct underground facilities where they can survive any threats from their own people as well as the outside world,” according to Lintner, adding, “It is not known if the tunnels are linked to Burma’s reported efforts to develop nuclear technology.”

Lintner explains that the export of such know-how to Burma was first documented in June 2006, when intelligence agencies intercepted a message from Naypyitaw confirming the arrival of a group of North Korean tunnelling experts at the site.

As exhibited in other instances, North Korean tunnelling technology is typically of high quality, with tunnels running as deep as 40 meters below the surface and offering amenities such as electricity, ventilation and running water.

It remains unknown how Burma’s Generals paid for the North Korean expertise, with Lintner suggesting that payment could even have consisted of food or gold from the country’s riverbeds.

But can tunnels keep the Generals safe? Can burrowing underground assuage the internal uncertainty and looming questions inhabiting the minds of Burma’s military authorities?

Trapped, victims of a cycle of habitual fear and paranoia incubated from their very own machinations, the existence of the tunnel complexes highlights just how insecure the Tatmadaw’s leadership feels. And in time, there will be no place left for the Generals to turn in times of paranoia, to hide from the fears they themselves first created.

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