BANGKOK – US officials viewed Burmese Government’s Border Guard Force (BGF) plans as a strategic cul-de-sac likely to provoke renewed fighting in ethnic borderlands, according to leaked diplomatic cables from the US embassy in Rangoon
According to a 2010 cable discussing the BGF, US Chargé d’Affairs Larry Dinger wrote “The GOB does not appear to have easy options”, as the divide-and-conquer tactics
deployed in the August 2009 fall of the Kokang Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) – an ethnic Chinese militia based close to the border with China – were not likely to work with the larger ethnic militias such as the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the KIA.
In the months since the November 7 2010 elections in Burma, fighting has taken place in Mon, Karen, Shan and Kachin areas of Burma, with the breakdown of a 1994 ceasefire between the Burmese Army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) resulting in an estimated 20000+ people made homeless in on-off fighting since June 9.
The same document pointed to apparent indecisiveness by the ruling Burmese military, then known as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), prior to the handover to a nominally-civilian Government in 2011. “Another deadline for accession to the BGF passed on December 31, with no apparent consequences”, said the cable.
However the cables point to flawed negotiating by some of the ethnic militias as well as the Burmese Government, suggesting that various sides were engaged in brinkmanship. The KIO/KIA conceded to the Americans that it will have played “all its cards” if the Burmese Government refused to accept its demand that the stillborn 1947 Panglong Agreement on local autonomy for some of Burma’s larger ethnic groups be revived as a means to resolve Burma’s long-running conflicts.
After a speech made to the Kachin by the Burmese Army Northern Commander Soe Win, the KIA rejected his request that it hand over “data on each armed wing”. The KIA passed a copy of the speech to the US Embassy in Rangoon, according to the July 31 2009 cable.
In various negotiations between the two sides, KIA proposals on watering-down the Burmese Government format for the BGF were rejected, according to accounts given by KIA/KIO interlocutors to the US embassy.
Negotiations between the Burmese Army and other ethnic militias differed somewhat, according to a version of events given by a Wa representative. The UWSA viewed Burmese Government demands as non-starters, but, to avoid provoking Naypidaw, the UWSA “opted to “not answer” the GOB rather than reply with a “no”‘.
The US cables accepted the conventional view that the UWSA is the largest and best-armed militia, though one document added that it was clear exactly how many soldiers and reservists that the Wa militia could call upon.
The US and the Wa interlocutor believe that the UWSA can count on support from China in the event of fighting with the Burmese Army, though the US embassy was not sure whether the Wa had “official government, provincial government, or private support’, from across the border. China is Burma’s main international ally and along with Thailand, it’s main trade and investment partner. However other US embassy cables suggest a profound nervousness among Burma’s rulers about China’s long-term intentions toward Burma, with Burmese representatives apparently keen not to allow China exert an overweening influence in the country.
The cables suggest that the Burmese Government aimed to resolve the BGF issue in its favour six months after the elections – the eventual date for which (Nov 7 2010) had not been set at the time of the writing. Fighting between the Burmese Army and the KIA began on June 9 2011, almost seven months to day after the election took place. New Burma President Thein Sein, a former army general and Prime Minister under the old SPDC regime, has called the Kachin ‘terrorists’ and blames the KIA for the start of fighting in Kachin State, which is site of numerous Chinese-backed dam projects, including the controversial Myitsone Dam.
Activists say that the dam could flood an area the size of Singapore and result in the displacement of around 10,000-15000 people, with the bulk of the electricity set to be exported to China. The project has been cited as a spark for the KIA-Army fighting, after locals claimed they were not consulted about the dam. According to another Rangoon embassy cable, the US played a part, indirectly at least, in facilitating local opposition to the dam, saying “An unusual aspect of this case is the role grassroots organizations have played in opposing the dam, which speaks to the growing strength of civil society groups in Kachin State, including recipients of Embassy small grants.”Show