Repressive “Peace” and Investor Security in Myanmar

The situation in Rakhine state is deteriorating rapidly and all signs indicate that a new pogrom against the Rohingya is imminent.  United Nations fact-finding investigators have been banned from the country.  The army has deployed heavy artillery, armored cars and helicopters, for “clearance operations”  in Northern Rakhine, and there is speculation that Buddhist civilians will be organized into militias with arms and training by the military.  Already in the Western township  of Zay Di Pyin Rohingya have been blocked by Buddhist civilians from leaving the village.  There is every reason to fear that ethnic cleansing operations this time around will be broader and more brutal than ever before.

Meanwhile, the World Bank has awarded Myanmar $200 million credit, the first allotment of which has already been delivered.  The World Bank supports the iron-fisted approach of the central government towards ethnic conflicts throughout Myanmar, including in Rakhine state, saying “The current peace process represents the best chance for peace in a generation”.  The Bank has also “initiated an active dialogue with the Rakhine State authorities” in particular in the context of supporting the “peace process”.

It should be obvious, but it is worth stating that “peace” is a relatively empty term which can be applied to either a conflict-free and tranquil society or to a society where repression is so severe, and conflict so one-sided, that unrest is literally impossible.  Insofar as they regard Myanmar’s brutal military crackdowns as a “peace process”, it is clear which definition most appeals to the World Bank.

By July, over a thousand foreign companies had invested roughly $74 million dollars in Myanmar this year, about 60% of this was in the energy sector; a sector to which control of Rakhine state is vital.

Aside from the Shwe pipeline which will allow oil from the Gulf States and Africa to be pumped to China, bypassing a slower shipping route through the Strait of Malacca; there are significant natural gas wells situated off the coast of Sittwe; and the biggest natural gas discovery of 2016 was found a bit further north.  Multinational energy companies like Shell and Woodside are currently competing to grab acreage in Rakhine.  One cannot help but notice the connection between this scramble for land and the army’s “clearance operations”.

Stirring ethnic and religious violence in Rakhine sets the groundwork for the army occupying the state under the pretext of providing security for the population, when in fact, they are providing security for investors, and for the central government againstthe population.

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