The neighbourhood bully flexes its muscles

Published: 17/06/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News
One of the favourite tactics of the Burmese junta is its “bully” policy. The latest attacks on the army of the Karen National Union (KNU) on the Thai-Burma border are ample proof.

The troops of the military regime and its cease-fire group, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), have launched sustained clashes since early June. In two weeks, the conflict has forced an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 Karen villagers to flee their homes.

Many of them are hiding in the jungle while some are arriving in Thailand as displaced people.

Within the past fortnight, the Burmese military and DKBA troops have fired more than 200 mortar rounds in clashes with the Karen National Liberation Army, the military wing of KNU, in Pa-an district of Burma’s eastern Karen State.

The current rainy season is an unusual time for the regime to launch its military campaign, with at least 6,000 soldiers of several battalions in the area. Local Karen sources say that more troops are being deployed into the area.

This military campaign is linked by three factors: pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, neighbouring Thailand and the KNU rebels, one of the oldest surviving rebel armies in Southeast Asia.

A few days after Mrs 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 the unusual step of denouncing the junta’s trial of Mrs Suu Kyi and calling for her immediate release.

The generals in Naypyidaw 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.

The junta’s newspapers wrote: “The Thai government is not a good friend and is interfering in Burma’s internal affairs.”

Since then, the two governments have exchanged verbal volleys and the junta continues to publish articles critical of 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 shelters on the border, where hundreds of thousands of Karen escapees now live.

Thailand now faces a fresh flow of Karen asylum seekers. Last week, Thai 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.

The commander said: “Most of the refugees are women and children.”

David Takarpaw, vice chairman of the KNU, said: “The attack is continuous.” And Sally Thompson, deputy executive director for the Thailand-Burma Border Consortium that assists refugees, said: “There is still shelling in the areas.”

They indicate that Thailand can expect more refugees in the coming weeks and months. Thailand, which has caused “political problems” for the regime, now has a problem of its own caused by Burma.

Isn’t this an act of bullying? However, an article published last 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.

“The remnant KNU troops have showed no sign of making peace with the government though the military government has managed to make peace with other ethnic groups for national reconciliation,” the article continued. “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 Burmese generals have faced mounting international, regional and internal problems since they took power in 1988 after crushing a nationwide pro-democracy movement. But after Mrs 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 Mrs 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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