Who isn’t bombing Rangoon

When news spread that in the early hours of Oct. 13 a passenger vehicle had exploded in suburban Rangoon killing seven, the first response of some people was that it must have been another in the latest series of bombings to rock the former capital.

It turned out that the blast was the result of a natural gas cylinder crammed between the driver and tray in the manner of most fuel-converted trucks and vans in Burma, to the dismay of those squeezed in alongside.

But it was not long before the bombs started again. On Saturday, a small one went off at a football ground in Yankin, causing minor damage. On Sunday, another in Shwepyithar killed a man who, according to the state media, was building the device.

These followed a number of other incidents in September that left at least seven persons wounded. Bombs also earlier exploded at the main railway station, and near the high-class Traders Hotel and the town hall.

There is a lot of talk going around about who might be behind this new campaign. Some exiled opponents of the regime suggest, as in previous years, that it could be elements of the security forces. Others suspect renegade activists who have lost patience with both nonviolent resistance and the jungle-based insurgencies of old.

One person who wasn’t involved is U Myint Aye. That’s because he’s in jail accused of planting a bomb at the branch office of a government organizing body in July. It’s an odd turn of events for the 57-year-old chairman of Burma’s only out-and-out domestic rights group, Human Rights Defenders and Promoters.

Myint Aye is used to being detained, questioned and attacked. There’s no other way for someone openly wearing a human rights label in Burma. This March, an unidentified man hit him on the street while he was campaigning for a “No vote” in the referendum on a new Constitution. Last year he was held for a while after the monk-led protests.

So when police came for Myint Aye on Aug. 8, it was nothing unusual. His family expected them to interrogate him about the relief work he had done since Cyclone Nargis struck in May, and the interviews he had given with overseas media, like those that had got comedian and fellow humanist Zarganar into trouble.

Although the officers behaved politely and gave reassurances that he’d be back soon, a month later the government held its first press conference of the year to denounce Myint Aye (at centre of chart, above) as a saboteur. According to the police chief, he had been acting as a conduit for money and explosives from abroad and had “committed terrorist acts in the name of human rights.”

Up to now the chief’s men haven’t produced any evidence in court to support these dramatic claims. None of the stuff collected from Myint Aye’s house strengthens the case, and all that’s been proven so far is how, as usual, the judicial system in Burma has been skewed to deny defendants their basic rights, and its police force bent to coerce and harass well-meaning people.

Nor is Myint Aye the only one of his group who is currently in prison on concocted charges. In the delta, six of his people were imprisoned in 2007 under the catch-all offence of upsetting public tranquility. Another in Pegu is doing time for illegal tuition. And there are still more who have been inside since the rallies of a year back. Any charge will do, although in the chairman’s case it seems that the more outlandish it is, the better.

While supposed bombers are locked up, bombs keep going off. Irrespective of who’s behind them, the inability and unwillingness of the police to hunt for the real perpetrators is indicative of how the government of Burma promotes insecurity for its millions, rather than, as it never tires of claiming, protecting them.

For years the authorities have responded to bombings not through credible inquiries or arrests of genuine suspects but through the same sort of finger pointing and jailing of troublemakers as in recent months, perhaps according to some plan, perhaps just opportunistically.

The blasts in January were blamed on an insurgent army, one bomber again supposedly dying while planting a device. The year before, another rebel group was accused of posting a series of letter bombs.

Three big explosions in supermarkets in May 2005 killed dozens and injured hundreds. Although the police then offered rewards and asked for witnesses, the case remains unsolved. Not even the true number of casualties has been confirmed. At least one suspect died in custody. The official line ended up, as usual, with the blame going to a Thailand-based political group.

The arrest and charging of U Myint Aye only reveals yet again who isn’t bombing Rangoon. Whoever it is continues to enjoy a license to blast away, free from the concerns of being hunted down that are shared by bombers in countries with working police forces and truly professional investigators. As for the uninformed and rightfully distrustful public, they can only wonder when and where the next bombs will blast.

Source: Who isn’t bombing Rangoon


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