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BURMA CASUALTIES, AND THE POSSIBILITY OF FREEDOM
December 21, 2016
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There is so much happening in Burma - it's an entire country after all - but for the most important issues accurate much less comprehensive information is never available. Witness the military dictatorship's nuclear and ballistic missile programs (and which are likely still underway - hence the continued U.S. sanctions). Another example is casualties - the number of the dictatorship's victims. Literally millions of people have fled Burma. This reflects unimaginable repression.
For the Rohingya, the number of people who died during the pogroms from June 2012 - March 2014 was commonly estimated to be in the hundreds. However, a careful adding up from the incident reports by people who were on the ground, or who had access to such sources, makes it clear that the victim total, individuals murdered directly or who drowned while trying to escape, was in the thousands. Now, in the latest attacks, a no-holds-barred genocidal scorched-earth campaign, we are supposed to believe the regime's story that the total killed is less than one hundred. Again, counting from the reports that have been published, at a minimum many hundreds have been murdered. But, it is a particularly difficult situation to evaluate, because the scorched-earth area is sealed, and since dozens of villages have been destroyed, usually in the dead of night. There are no credible reports of what happened for most of these villages - their residents have simply disappeared.
Similarly, a monumental war is now underway in the north of the country, the worst fighting in decades, by the Burma Army against the KIA, the TNLA, and their allies. Again, there has been no good estimate of the casualties, from either side. However, one number has finally been mentioned, the dead at the Gideon Hill battlefield, where the Burma Army used World War tactics, combining air and artillery assaults with large ground offensives. There is information that total BA soldiers killed in action were 400-500, and 20 for the KIA (The Battle for Gideon: A Kachin Perspective, Irrawaddy). While this seems like a great disparity, it is certainly possible. The KIA would have been able to hide from the air attacks and artillery in trenches, and been well-positioned to confront the ground assaults.
Gideon, though, was just one battle. There have been hundreds of clashes, from brief to multi-day, and with all of them on the home terrain of the ethnic resistance. It wouldn't be surprising if 1,000 BA soldiers have been killed in the last month, which news the dictatorship would not want disclosed - it means defeat, and which also explains why more and more reinforcements are being sent to Kachin and Northern Shan States.
What all of this means is that we do not have a clear grasp of the current state of the Civil War. The regime's Gideon campaign achieved its objective, but at a high cost, and there have undoubtedly been many defeats. A military dictatorship uses force to survive. If it becomes known that the regime is losing, this empowers not only the pro-democracy fighters, but everyone in the country, to resist even stronger. Even more, concerted opposition, involving other ethnic armies joining the battle, can create a unified front capable of achieving victory - of actually overthrowing the tyrants. This is what is happening in Northern Iraq, where ISIS has been defeated in one town and city after another.
These are the hidden stories in Burma. Nonetheless, they are the most important. The first, the Rohingya genocide, is real. It is the most critical issue the country faces. Suu Kyi's mantra, her "safe phrase," is "the rule of law," However, there is none. Burma Army soldiers and regime police are savages. They are killing day-after-day, and in the most brutal ways possible - and with complete impunity. If anything, they are being rewarded for their crimes.
The second is the Civil War. I suspect overall the dictatorship is losing, hence the desperate propaganda measures to label the pro-democracy resistance and the farcical demonstration in Rangoon. Therefore, all the ethnic forces, starting with the UWSA, should join the fight. This is an historic opportunity. It is absolutely possible to defeat the dictatorship the old-fashioned way, on the battlefield. A good Burma Army soldier is a dead Burma Army soldier. If the dictatorship suffers thousands of casualties, it will collapse. The rank and file will refuse to follow orders, and their officers will mutiny.