“Post-election Threats to Ethnic Areas
By KATRINA WINTERS
The recent bombings at the Myitsone dam project in Burma are an example of the root cause of ethnic armed conflict in Burma. While no one has claimed responsibility for the bombings, a farmer who was arrested is viewed by many as a scapegoat, who most likely lacked the resources and skills to plant such a series of bombs.
One hypothesis is that it was the work of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which took action as a part of their refusal to become a regime-led border guard force. Another hypothesis is that it could have been an act of the Burmese government to set up the KIA.
Either way, it is evident that the root cause of conflict in ethnic areas in Burma is a conflict over land and resources.
Such conflicts are likely to accelerate and spread in ethnic areas, especially in cease-fire areas where ethnic groups have refused to transform their armies into a border guard force. As each deadline passes, it is clear that the junta’s efforts to transform ethnic armies into border guard forces have largely failed.
The junta’s motivation to form border guard forces is not only for political and security reasons but also for economic gain: to increase access to natural resources in ethnic areas that are currently not under their control. In the cease-fire agreements of the early 1990s, the military regime commonly offered co-operative arrangements to ethnic leaders to exploit natural resources, if they agreed to a cease-fire.
In a post-election context, as the Burmese government pursues its plan for economic development through exploiting natural resources in ethnic areas, tensions between ethnic armies both in cease-fire and non-ceasefire areas and the Burmese military are bound to increase.
If cease-fire groups turn their back on the government, civil wars are likely to resume, resulting in more land rights abuses, displacement and refugees. Ethnic armies that either re-engage in a civil war or continue in their armed struggle against the Burmese army also have to finance their efforts. As in the past, they will finance themselves through the exploitation of natural resources and through trade with resource-hungry neighboring countries.
The situation is further compounded by the opening up of the economy. The 2008 Constitution stipulates that the post –election Burmese economy will be market-based. In the article “A State-owned market economy” (Nov 16, 2009), Sean Turnell—a long-time observer of Burma’s economy from Macquarie University, Australia—noted that the 2008 Constitution says that the economy will have “a capitalist heart.” Article (35) states that, “The economic system of the Union is a market economy system.”
Recently, there has been a continuing increase in state militarization, large-scale resource extraction and infrastructure development. These factors are causing widespread displacement in ethnic areas, particularly in eastern Burma where there are plans to build a series of dams on the Salween River.
The dams are part of a systematic plan by the military government to gain control over natural resource-rich ethnic areas to create wealth and to consolidate its political power base.
This is not a new state of affairs. As we know, there is no rule of law in Burma, and the generals do not adhere to legal frameworks. They use the law not to protect people’s rights, but to control the population and to serve the economic interests of the Burmese government primarily through extracting wealth. The country’s major income comes from selling off natural resources, including billions of dollars from gas, and hydropower development.
In a post-election context, we can expect on-going human rights abuses and natural resource exploitation in the pursuit of economic development, as the markets will be increasingly opened up to foreign investment. However, little current foreign investment and state interventions for large-scale development projects (such as dams, gas pipelines, mining and biofuel plantations) actually benefit local communities.
They are purely for the economic benefit of the investors and the state. Instead, they usually lead to disruption of local livelihoods and environmental destruction. There is no transparency, local consultation, appropriate compensation or participation in decision making about the development that affects these local communities.
The fundamental problem lies in (…).”
(Quelle: The Irrawaddy.)