Burma's seemingly rapid shift from ruthless autocracy to fledgling democracy has indeed "stunned" the world, to borrow from the headline writers' vernacular. Cautious acclaim poured in from leaders the globe over as elections were held and the long-imprisoned Aung San Suu Kyi was allowed to take public office for the first time in twenty years.
But all the applause seems to have drowned out the old regime's persisting violent habits: the Burmese military is continuing a brutal campaign to suppress civil strife in the nation's northern provinces. The ethnic minorities that inhabit the Karen and Kachin states especially have for decades been persecuted by Myanmar's military; some observers have termed the systematic attacks on both regions genocide.
And those attacks continue today. On New Year's Day, while most of the world was celebrating the beginning of an apocalypse-free year, bombs were falling on the Kachin people. You can, of course, watch it on YouTube. My Burmese friend, a refugee and pro-democracy activist, sent me the links to the videos taken by his countrymen today:
See, the military junta, which has tentatively and outwardly ceded some of its power to elected officials, has tried to keep its activities in the north quiet while foreign investors marvel at the newly democratized, resource-rich nation. So it typically denies any active military campaigns against the ethnic minorities in the north, despite breaking a years-long ceasefire with the Kachin last year. CNN's international arm did a decent job of detailing their plight:This holiday season, the fighting again intensified to the point where the regime could no longer safely deny it.
The Democratic Voice of Burma, a nonprofit independent news organization, details the assault that came in the last days of 2012, and the first of 2013:
The Burmese army has claimed responsibility for several targeted air strikes in northern Burma, less than a day after the government denied using jet fighters and attack helicopters against Kachin rebels.
In an article by the military-owned Myawady news website on Tuesday, the army admitted that “an assault mission, utilising airstrikes, was carried out” in the strategic Lajayang region, less than 13 kilometres from the rebels’ headquarters in Laiza.
The military says it carried out the attacks because Kachin "rebels" refused to stand down from a position near a trade route to China, and the central government claims it has asked the military not to proceed with further attacks. Even if that's the case, observers fear that the episode demonstrates how little control the new government has over the military.
These crude videos, which were likely extremely difficult to upload in rural Kachin state, are a stark reminder that Burma, despite its nascent halo, is still waging brutal war.