October 20, 2010
The government has banned foreign reporters from observing the November 7th elections. This indicates that the military government is planning to use fraud if it appears (as is likely) that the vote will go against the pro-military candidates. The pro-military government parties have already arranged to have all government employees vote correctly, or else (identity information on government workers has been collected, to provide a realistic threat of retaliation.) A lot of government money is being spent on gifts for voters who can be influenced to vote for the pro-dictatorship (current government) candidates.
The government screwed up with their intelligence operations, and are trying to repair the damage. Six years ago, military intelligence (DDSI, or Directorate of Defense Services, Intelligence) was disbanded because senior generals were being spied on. DDSI was replaced with a much smaller organization (MAS, or Military Affairs Security). This has not worked well for the military, as the extensive informant network was missed. So a new military intelligence commander has been ordered to rebuild the informant net. But in the meantime, the dictatorship continues to get most of their intel from the media and rumor.
Thailand had ordered heavier patrol along the Burmese border, in the north where Burmese tribal militias operate. There has been more drug smuggling of drugs, an undertaking that is usually accompanied by armed guards. Thailand plans to keep the heavier border patrols going at least until the November 7 elections in Burma (which might instigate disorder, and refugees heading for the border). The Thai patrols are also looking for arms smuggling into Burma. Three Thai men, including a soldier, were recently arrested for stealing weapons from a military depot and smuggling them into Burma, where tribal rebels pay well for them.
In the north, there have been increasing clashes with tribal forces (especially the Shan, Karen and Wa). The army has been able to hurt these tribal armies, but not destroy them. In fact, the army has been corrupted by the tribal drug gangs. The opium/heroin trade was greatly reduced, but not the desire to produce and smuggle high-value recreational drugs. Thus while the heroin trade was all but eliminated in the north by the 1990s, drug production was not destroyed. The tribes still have money for bribes that encourage the local troops to be less effective in their operations against the tribal rebels. Many of the tribal drug gangs switched to methamphetamines. This stuff proved easier to produce (if you had the right chemicals, which turned out to be available from China), and more profitable. The tribes needed the drug money to buy weapons, and bribe Burmese officials, in order to maintain some semblance of tribal independence. The generals keep ordering the troops and bureaucrats to crush tribal independence, but for decades, drug money has proved to be the most potent weapon the tribes could muster. Methamphetamines are big business. The government has allowed pro-government tribes to get back into the heroin business, to keep them away from meth, but there is no evidence of significant heroin moving out of northern Burma, nor any big increases in opium (the raw material for heroin) addiction up north (where drug addiction has long been a problem.)
October 11, 2010: The military government said it would release 11,000 of the 50,000 convicts from prison before the November 7 vote, and allow the released prisoners to vote. Those being released are those close to finishing their sentences. There are another 6,000 people in prison awaiting trial.
October 7, 2010: A rural election office was wrecked by a bomb. There were no casualties and no one took responsibility.
October 3, 2010: Seven soldiers were arrested and charged with attacking civilians last month. This incident got into the international press, otherwise the soldiers would not have been arrested. At worst they would have been yelled at by their commander.
September 26, 2010: The government apparently hired hackers to shut down opposition web sites on September 20 anniversary of the 2007 uprisings (led by monks).
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