Contact: Roland Watson, firstname.lastname@example.org
ACTS OF DESPERATION
May 18, 2005
Note: We have posted two new photo essays describing severe human rights abuses
committed by the Burma Army in Eastern Shan State (http://www.dictatorwatch.org/phmain.html).
On May 7th, terrorist bombs exploded at three locations in Rangoon. The military
junta of Burma, the SPDC, immediately blamed the democracy resistance. This was
absurd. The pro-democracy groups are not able to carry out such a sophisticated
assault. More importantly, they wouldnt. They are striving for a lawful,
free and democratic Burma, and refuse to resort to the criminal tactics of the
Many commentators suggested that the attacks were perpetrated by supporters of
Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt. While this is possible, it also seems unlikely.
One would expect such an attack to target Than Shwe or Maung Aye directly, either
through an assassination attempt or the launching of a coup.
This leaves the top two generals. However, Maung Aye is also an unlikely culprit,
since his daughter was reportedly an investor in two of the properties.
Than Shwe, therefore, is clearly the leading suspect. First, the bombs can be
viewed as a strong message to Maung Aye, with whom he has a succession dispute:
Do not oppose me. I can do to you what I did to Khin Nyunt!
Secondly, the bombs, and subsequent placing of blame on the democracy resistance,
were a rather bald-faced attempt to secure additional backing from Thailand. The
Burma Army and its allies in the past few months have launched do or die offensives
against the Karenni and Shan. With the Karenni, the Tatmadaw has even resorted
to chemical weapons. To-date these offensives have been repelled, and to guarantee
their success access to Thai territory is required. By demonizing the resistance,
Than Shwe obviously hopes to persuade the Thais to grant him this access.
Similarly, the Burma Army has now moved a new division, some 2,000 troops, into
Taungoo District of Karen State. There have been on-going offensives and severe
human rights abuses against Karen villagers in Toungoo District and neighboring
Nyaunglebin District since last October. Than Shwe knows that he cannot force
the Karen to surrender, but through such offensives he may hope to persuade them
that the time is right to strike a deal.
It is not widely recognized, but since last autumn the Burma Army, directly and
through its allies, has initiated large-scale conflict against the groups that
have not signed ceasefires (and also threatened many of the groups that have formal
agreements). This conflict, and its associated human rights abuses, have for the
most part been ignored by the international press, and diplomats.
There is a difference in perspectives about Burma. Diplomats, the press, and some
activists, treat the situation as a negotiation. Than Shwe, though, is at war,
and has targeted everyone that opposes him.
Than Shwe is under pressure. And dictators, like rats, can strike out in such
circumstances with acts of desperation. For the Senior General, this extends to
committing public, urban terrorism. (The remote scorched earth campaigns that
have been conducted for decades against the ethnic nationalities of Burma are
another form of terrorism.) But such acts are extremely risky. Than Shwe fears
the U.S. more than anyone, and nothing motivates the current Administration more
Perhaps this explains his new round of blame on the CIA. By making such a ludicrous
claim, (which, though, has been repeated again and again, without critical analysis,
by a parroting world press), he may hope to forestall real U.S. action.
Another explanation for the bombings is that they were not acts of desperation,
but the result of a cold-blooded calculation. Than Shwe got away with the Depayin
Massacre, the attempted murder of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the slaughter of her
followers, which is now approaching its second anniversary. Diplomats no longer
call for justice for Depayin, only that Daw Suu be released. (Similarly, Burmas
relinquishing of the chair of Asean will be viewed as a great victory, but the
real objective should be the nations expulsion from the group until such
time as the democratically elected opposition is able to assume power.)
In another analysis, Dictator Watch speculated that the increasing pressure on
the regime is bringing us closer to the tipping point. Unfortunately, the specific
actions that would trigger a democratic transition for Burma appear rather limited.
Once Than Shwe declines to chair Asean, the other member nations of the group,
and the U.N., E.U., Japan and Australia, will be satisfied. (And the new Thai
Foreign Minister, Kantathi Suphamongkhon, will be viewed, undeservedly, as a hero.)
This leaves only the people of Burma, and the U.S. It would seem that the most
probable tipping point for Burma is U.S. action, in whatever form it might take
(but not only sanctions). In other words, to get to the democracy tipping point
for Burma, we need to get to the action tipping point for the U.S. Strong action
by the U.S. would then motivate the people of the country to take to the streets,
and the democracy transition would be launched.
Until such time as the U.S. intervenes (publicly or quietly), and whether the
bombings were acts of desperation or the result of murderous logic (or both),
we can expect more such terrorism. On the other hand, this is further proof that
there is fear and division at the top of the SPDC, which is an opportunity that
remains to be grasped.