Southeast Asia Theater
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announced a new peace initiative in Burma's eastern Shan state June 28, aimed at facilitating poppy eradication in the world's second largest opium producer. The government has pledged to cooperate with the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), whose Shan State Army (SSA) fought for regional autonomy from 1964 until a 2011 ceasefire. Both parties and the UNODC agreed to help destitute farmers with alternative development programs. The anticipated multi-million dollar four-year plan seeks to improve the state's infrastructure, health and education. "There are increasing rates of poverty and food insecurity," said UNODC country coordinator Jason Eligh. "Opium farmers are not bad people, they are just poor and hungry."
Burma's persecuted Muslim Rohingya people were in the news again over the weekend with the Thai navy's denial that its forces opened fire on a group of refugees off the country's southwestern coast last month, killing at least two. Survivors said that Thai naval troops fired a boat of around 20 refugees off Thailand's Phang Nga province on Feb. 22, as they jumped into the water to escape custody. "Navy personnel fired into the air three times and told us not to move," a refugee told Human Rights Watch (HRW). "But we were panicking and jumped off the boat, and then they opened fire at us in the water." More than 100,000 Rohingyas have been displaced since ethnic violence broke out in western Burma last year. Burma refuses to recognize the Rohingya as citizens and labels the minority of about 800,000 as "illegal" immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh—which in turn disavows them as nationals. (BBC News, March 15; Press TV, March 13)
Accused Burmese drug lord Naw Kham was executed in China on March 1 along with three accomplices in the murder of 13 Chinese merchant sailors on the Mekong River in 2011. The executions were carried out by a court in Kunming, Yunnan province. Thai national Hsang Kham, Lao national Zha Xika, and Yi Lai, who was named as "stateless," were executed by lethal injection along with Naw Kham. In an unusual move, authorities allowed state media to film Naw Kham during his transfer from a detention center to the court's execution area. China Central Television showed police removing Naw Kham's handcuffs and binding his arms behind his back with rope, a standard ritual before executions in China. The executions themselves were not broadcast, as cameras were not allowed in the death chamber. But the spectacle still sparked dissent on the Internet within China.
The Sultanate of Sulu, an autonomous kingdom within the Philippines, claimed March 1 that 10 members of the royal army were killed and four more injured in an attack by Malaysian authorities on Lahad Datu, the village seized by the Sulu partisans in Sabah state on Borneo. Malaysian authorities deny any reports of violence. Sultanate spokesman Abraham Idjirani told reporters in Manila that he was informed of the attack by Raj Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, who is leading the royal army partisans at Lahad Datu. Kiram is the brother of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III. Idjirani said Malaysian officials are seeking "to cover up the truth." (Philippine Star, Reuters via Malaysia Chronicle, March 1)
Malaysian security forces remain in a stand-off with some 100 men they say are armed insurgents from a rebel faction in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao, who are accused of having taken over a village in a remote part of Sabah state on Borneo Feb. 14. But the Philippine government maintains the men are unarmed Filipino peasant migrants who had been promised land in the area. The Malaysian inhabitants of the village, named as Kampung Tanduao, have reportedly been forced to flee. Malaysian police forces say the invaders procialmed themselves the "royal army" of the Sultanate of Sulu, which has an historic claim to the area. By some accounts, the men have raised the Philippine flag in the village, which is now surrounded by Malaysian troops. The Philippine military has meanwhile deployed naval vessels and an aircraft to the coast of Malaysian Borneo.
Burmese government negotiators and representatives from the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) this week agreed to hold talks at Panghsang in northern Shan state, territory under the control of the United Wa State Army (UWSA), another rebel group that has entered into a peace deal. The KIO, the political wing of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), accepted the plan Jan. 29. No official date has been set for the talks as government troops inch closer to Laiza after taking a key KIA hill station over the weekend, which served as the last line of strategic defense for the Kachin stronghold.
The Burmese military on Jan. 2 claimed responsibility for several air-strikes against Kachin rebel positions in the country's north—less than a day after the government denied that the strikes had taken place. The military statement said that "an assault mission, utilizing air-strikes, was carried out" in the strategic Lajayang region, less than 13 kilometers from the rebels' headquarters in Laiza. This contradicts an earlier government claim that it was only using air forces to "deliver food supplies to its troops" and "to provide security for the workers who are repairing roads and bridges."