Friday, June 24, 2011

Will There Be Stability In Myanmar?

With Myanmar taking a pro- democracy political course after installation of an elected government in March, the Western power block has intensified its efforts to increase its influence on the mineral-rich country, a next door neighbour of Bangladesh, China and India.    Having the strategic opening towards Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, Mayanmar has been targeted primarily for destabilizing its close relations with China and stir unrest to make the new government turn to the West.    A number of high profile visits and the declared intentions of the Western diplomats indicate that the once virgin land, Myanmar would be subjected to a lot of internal troubles including ethnic fighting and street agitations in the coming days.    Last November, at the time of national elections, clashes between the Myanmar army and rebels in Karen state left several dozen people dead and sent thousands fleeing into Thailand, it was estimated at the time.    Several Western leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, condemned the November general elections as a sham. The winning party was a group consisting of many of the former military rulers who resigned their commissions to run as civilians.    In April, European governments extended by a year a set of trade and financial sanctions on Myanmar - but opened the door to the Myanmar foreign minister as an inducement to accelerate change.    The United Nations last week announced that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would soon name a full-time special envoy to Myanmar to encourage the government on the reform path.         US view    After his recent visit to Myanmar, U.S. Senator John McCain said that Myanmar’s new military-backed government could face the kind of revolution sweeping through Arab nations.    US Senator John McCain visited the Mayanmar earlier in June, and US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Joseph Yun and UN special envoy to Myanmar Vijay Nambiar visited in April.    McCain said unless Myanmar is willing to make pro-democracy changes peacefully, it could be wrecked by the kind of unrest leaders in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East are experiencing.    McCain spent two days in Myanmar, where he met with senior leaders in its new government. He said it is clear “ the new government wants a better relationship with the United States,” but he called for “concrete actions” before the U.S. can consider lifting sanctions.    McCain said such actions include the unconditional release of more than 2 ,000 political prisoners and guarantees of safety for pro- democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi as she travels around the country in an upcoming political tour.    The US is also making it an opportunity to get closer to Myanmar after signing deep-sea exploration contract in the Bay of Bengal, political observers said.         India’s hope    Meanwhile, India’s Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna concluded a three-day visit to Myanmar last week, as he seeks to counter China’s influence on the country.    Krishna is the first high-level Indian official to visit Myanmar since an elected government replaced a military junta in March.    India is wary of China’s growing influence in Myanmar, and is in competition with its large regional rival for access to the Mayanmar’s large natural gas resources.    India and Myanmar have widened cooperation between their security forces since the mid- 1990 s, with both countries fighting armed insurgencies along their shared border.         Fighting the rebels    A rebel army in northern Myanmar reportedly warned its troops to expect protracted fighting after clashes with government soldiers forced thousands of civilians to flee.    Fighting broke out on June 9 near Bhamo, around 40 miles from the Chinese border. The clashes marked the end of a 15- year cease-fire between the Kachin Independence Army and the Myanmar central government.    The government’s policy of maintaining the border forces has been a relatively successful tactic between it and insurgents in several sensitive border areas, mainly in Kachin, in Shan state directly to the south and in Karen state, further south near Thai borders.         Chinese workers flee Myanmar    More than 200 Chinese workers have returned home from Myanmar after separatist rebels attacked a hydropower plant in the northern border province of Kachin, state media in Myanmar said last week.    An official statement in the daily New Light of Myanmar outlined several threats since April by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) against Chinese projects in Kachin State, including the Tarpein Hydropower Project. Altogether, 215 Chinese employees assigned to the project returned to China from June 9 to 14.    Responding to an attack by Myanmar’s army, the KIA blew up 25 bridges in the region from June 14 to 16 , it added.    Sources in Kachin have said hundreds of people had fled their homes in the mountainous region to escape eight days of fighting up until Thursday.    The KIA has battled the central government for decades but agreed to a ceasefire in 1994 under which its fighters were allowed to keep their arms.    However, tension has been rising since last year, largely because the Kachins have resisted government pressure to fold their men into a state-run border security force. Analysts say, Myanmar’s 10-week old government, the country’s first civilian-led administration in five decades, is intent on seizing control of the rebellious states but is reluctant to engage in conflict with the numerous factions.    Chinese-built dams have been divisive projects in Myanmar, with ethnic minorities seeing construction as expanding military presence into their territory. Some analysts say Kachin rebels may be trying to hold the dams hostage in return for a share of the revenue from the projects.    The risk of fighting spreading in the heavily militarized border region is a worry for China, which is building oil and gas pipelines through its Southeast Asian neighbour to improve energy security.         Suu Kyi for talks    Meanwhile, Myanmar pro- democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s political organization has called for negotiations to end fighting in border areas between the government and ethnic minorities.    A statement from the National League for Democracy on Monday said the group deplored recent clashes between the government and the ethnic Kachin Independence Army in northern Myanmar.    It also said ongoing fighting in southern Karen state had escalated and thousands of refugees have fled to Thailand. The league also cited clashes between government troops and the ethnic Shan in northeastern Shan state.    The league said it urged the parties “to hold genuine negotiations through mutual respect and understanding”.         EU delegation meets Suu Kyi    A European Union delegation held talks Tuesday with Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi at her lakeside home in Yangon, but details on the discussions were not disclosed.    Robert Cooper, counselor in the European External Action Service - the EU’s foreign affairs department, met Suu Kyi for almost two hours after he and his delegation had visited the capital of Naypyitaw for talks with government ministers.    Before travelling to Burma, the delegates said they wanted to see whether the country’s new government is serious about democratic reform. A long-ruling junta handed over power at the end of March to a new administration made up mostly of its own supporters.    Aung San Suu Kyi will deliver her video-recorded remarks on Burma’s November elections to members of the U.S. Congress Wednesday.    The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific will hold a hearing on Burma’s first election in 20 years.    Suu Kyi confirmed that she still planned to travel outside Yangon next month.    The last time the Nobel laureate travelled up-country in 2003 ; her convoy was attacked by government thugs and she was placed under house arrest for almost seven years, being released November 13 , last year.