Three explosions have killed at least nine people in Burma’s former capital, Yangon.
As Burma celebrates the new year with the Thingyan water festival, the junta has taken a happy occasion and created a heightened sense of insecurity and instability ahead of their sham elections. The three bomb blasts went off in a park as revelers celebrated the beginning of summer. While minor explosions happen sporadically in Yangon, which is Burma’s largest city and economic center, there are rarely coordinated attacks with so many casualties. In addition to nine deaths, there are also at least 75 injured.
The junta is blaming the blasts on the pro-democracy group National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma as well as ethnic militias such as the Shan State Army-South and the Karen National Union. These ethnic minority groups have become embroiled in what is now the world’s longest currently running military conflict as they fight for their autonomy.
Tensions between the regime and the ethnic groups have been especially high as the junta attempts to neutralize the militias and forcibly recruit fighters for a border guard force under the direction of the Burmese Army. Ethnic minorities in eastern Burma are subject to horrendous human rights abuses and over a half-million minorities are currently living in hiding as internally displaced people.
This is not the first time the regime has used bombings to crack down on dissenters and arrest activists. As the junta plans their upcoming elections, the first since Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy won a landslide victory twenty years ago, the regime is especially eager to subjugate pro-democracy dissenters. The NLD has withdrawn from the election process as new election regulations essentially outlaw opposition parties.
The United States has recently spoken out against the regime and their plans for illegitimate elections. Although President Obama has reversed the former US policy of isolation and initiated a dialogue with the regime, the US has warned the junta that if they fail to allow free and fair elections, the new engagement policies will be reconsidered. Additionally, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Kurt Campbell, has affirmed that “we have obviously not eased sanctions and we always retain the right and the ability (to maintain them).”
In addition to the economic sanctions, nine US senators from both sides of the aisle have urged the Obama administration to crack down on bank accounts linked to the regime as well as target foreign banks that facilitate the junta’s embezzlement of oil and gas revenues.