Over the past two weeks, a series of bombs have hit major cities in Burma, including Rangoon, Mandalay and Naypyidaw, the purpose-built city in the centre of the country where the regime moved its capital six years ago. Even by Burma’s standards, Naypyidaw is a heavily policed city. A bombing there requires significant planning and, probably, some co-ordination with sympathetic police and soldiers. No one has claimed responsibility for the bombings, which wounded at least two people (any numbers coming out of Burma are notoriously unreliable), but they are the latest sign of a rapidly deteriorating political situation in parts of the country.
Last autumn, the regime oversaw a national election that – though highly flawed – resulted in a formal transfer of power to civilians. Many Western governments condemned the polls, but Thailand and India hailed them as a step forward, giving the Burmese government more international legitimacy than it’s had in two decades. Since then, the regime has been tearing up its longstanding ceasefires with many ethnic minority militias in the north and east of the country, demanding that they surrender and threatening war if they don’t. It’s no coincidence that many of the militias control areas, such as Kachin State, that are rich in minerals and hydropower which the government, and its allies in China, would like to exploit.
But the regime seems to have overestimated its strength. The election may have brought some degree of normalcy, but it hardly pacified either the ethnic minority regions or most pro-democracy activists. At the same time, the army probably isn’t strong enough to defeat the militias, which are heavily armed and fighting for survival on their own turf. Over the past three weeks, the Kachin Independence Army has inflicted some significant casualties on government troops, and its potential alliances with other militias could turn all of northern and eastern Burma into a war zone.