Friday, May 09, 2008

Burma notes

I'm learning bits and bobs about Burma that don't seem to fit in with the official story in the press. I don't pretend any particular knowledge of the area but there are some salient facts which might be useful to draw upon when listening to the news.

1. Burma is part of George W Bush's axis of evil.
2. Which in the last years has meant that they are under threat of military intervention.
3. The US government regards them as an enemy power.
4. The US is sending military hardware to the region.
5. The Burmese authorities are reluctant to let the military of an enemy power trample around in their territory.

OK. I don't think there's a flaw to that logic which shows, perhaps, that the Burmese authorities are not being simply mindless bastards. Just to add weight to this point I'd like to point to the fact that India and China are shipping in aid, equipment and personnel right now with no problems - but then they haven't spent the last seven years arguing for regime change in Burma.

In this context the Liberal Democrat argument that we should airdrop aid into the south against the will of the Burmese authorities is both unrealistic, untried and completely insensitive to the political context where Western aid is suspect not aid in general. What about assisting the Chinese and Indians to give assistance and turning the military hardware around so the Burmese authorities don't feel under threat?

Next point.

1. The devastating impact of this natural disaster has been felt largely in the South.
2. Southern Burma is home to the longest running insurgency on the planet.
3. The Karen National Union and Karen National Liberation Army have been fighting the Burmese government since 1948, based largely in Kayin State.
4. The Karens, who have resisted ethnic cleansing and repression for decades, have been enormously successful in resisting the attempts by the Chinese armed Burmese military to literally wipe them out.
5. To the West of this rebellion in Mon there has been an equally long movement for Mon independence with a military wing in the shape of the Mon National Liberation Front.
6. Although this movement has been largely crushed or bought off this does not negate the fact that it has been a home for political dissent since the 40's.
7. Both Kayin and Mon are two of the areas hardest hit by this disaster.
8. Perhaps it is in someone's interests not to allow aid and rescue packages to get into these areas efficiently.
9. This may be one of the reasons that the Burmese authorities okayed Western aid packages but wanted to determine where this aid went themselves.

I mean it may just be me being cynical but surely the undoubtedly repressive government of Burma may weigh up in their calculations whether it is in fact useful to them to have the two centres of most long standing dissent absolutely obliterated.

No one has mentioned this factor on the news - am I missing something?


Raphael said...

Hi Jim

I have recently see this show at the Unity Theatre in Liverpool. If it comes close to you, I highly recommend it:

There is one point that you do not discuss. Most NGOs, as a matter of principle, will not let their aid be used as a tool for coercition and consolidation of tyrannical regime. This seems to me to be a legitimate position to take. The fact that some of the opposition to the regime occurs in the affected areas only makes this position more important.

Jim Jay said...

Thanks for this.

That's a complex issue. I work for an NGO (as it happens) and the nuts and bolts of these issues are difficult in practice.

We'll be working with the Libya and Tanzanian governments soon (around education) and we certainly are strenthening the state's infrastructure. We have to make a decision if that crosses any ethical boundaries.

The practicalities of the situation are that you need the cooperation of the local government - no matter how vile - otherwise the job simply cannot be done.