Burma must talk to rebels and China

Burma or Myanmar, is in a pickle. It’s a human rights disaster and the government is in conflict with its own ethnic communities.

Heavy fighting continues in Burma’s Kokang region despite the ongoing peace talks between the Burma government and the Kokang ethnic rebels. The fighting near the China-Burma border has at times spilled into Chinese territory. In March¬† a bomb killed five Chinese nationals.

Such conflicts have plagued Burma ever since it became independent 67 years ago. They are  rooted in the political and economic differences between the Burma central government and regional minorities.

Because of the limited success in its pursuit of unification and stability, Burma has gradually slid into recession and foreign investors shy away from it. Worse, the intensifying conflicts between government forces and ethnic rebels have dealt a deadly blow to the country’s global image, which is vital for the success of Burma’s national election at the end of this year and eventual democratic transformation.

The international community, for instance, has criticised Burma for the deaths of more than 200 people in the Kokang conflict and serious human rights abuses. In fact, Western powers have made human rights protection an important criterion for engaging with Burma and providing it aid. The legality of the national election too faces risk, because the conflict-ridden northern part of Burma is unlikely to fully participate in the process.

The conflict in north Burma has become a seesaw battle – neither government forces nor the ethnic Burma National Democratic Alliance Army – can emerge victorious in the short term. The undeveloped mountains and forests in the north, which serve as natural barriers for local armed groups, make large-scale mechanised military engagement impossible. On the other hand, the rebels lack the financial and military power to defeat government forces, though they know resistance could earn them more rights and interests.

Song Qingrun, an associate professor at the Institute of South Asia says that the increasing violence in Burma poses a threat to China’s interests. It also is a test for China-Burma ties. Just north of the 2,000-kilometre border, Yunnan has suffered the consequences of the conflict in Burma. The five Chinese nationals killed on March 13 were residents of Yunnan, which has also been facing border security and trade problems. Also, humanitarian missions in Yunnan are facing challenges in accommodating refugees from Burma and relocating local residents.

Moreover, the mutual strategic trust between the two countries could fall prey to the conflict and resultant instability in Burma, and the Beijing-proposed China-Burma-India-Bangladesh economic corridor would be difficult to complete because it has to pass through the conflict zone. Confounding these problems are rumours unleashed by some media outlets that some Chinese military veterans are backing the Kokang rebel forces.

The truth, however, is that China has never intervened in Burma’s internal affairs, let alone support any side at the expense of its own people’s well-being, says Prof Song. Instead, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei has urged the conflicting parties in Burma to “take China’s concerns seriously” and exercise restraint in order to restore peace and order along the border.

To end the violence along the border, the governments of China and Burma, along with the latter’s rebel forces, have to negotiate a truce that would require all forces to retreat from the front to re-accommodate the refugees. Besides, the results of the joint investigation into the bombing that killed the five Chinese nationals should be made public so that measures can be taken to prevent similar tragedies. The most urgent task, therefore, is for the Burma government and rebels to end the conflict by resolving their differences.




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Posted by on March 30, 2015. Filed under Breaking News,Burma. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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