Once again, the Burma Army, unable to beat the rebels above the belt, has played its ace in the hole: chemical weapons (CWs)
On 3 June, unable to dislodge the Shan State Army (SSA) North from its stronghold in Tangyan, 4 shells were launched by its MA-7 mortars. The effects, as described by the defenders, were as follows:
- The volume of the explosion was lower than that of other mortar shells, but it created an unusually bigger black smoke
- Those who came into contact complained of suffocation, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, stinging sensation in the eyes and loss of consciousness
According to Kachin News Group report, 30 September 2009, the chemical shells are marked with red, yellow and green colors. The Burma Army had already used it once during its attack of Kokang, 27-29 August 2009. “Rebels and civilians in the area had bleeding noses and ears,” said the report.
The use of chemical weapons began a long way back. Karen Human Rights Group reported on 24 February 1995 that the Burma Army had employed chemical shells at Kawmoora, one of the strongholds of the Karen National Union (KNU) on 20-21 February 1995.
Karen defenders were forced to withdraw by the dizziness, nausea, vomiting and unconsciousness caused by the shells. “When it explodes near a bunker, the bunker is full of smoke and the people inside can’t breathe and all get dizzy,” according to a Karen medic. “Even after the Burmese knew for sure we’d withdrawn, they still didn’t even try to enter Wang Kha (Kawmoora) until 10 hours later. I think they knew there were chemicals”.
It reportedly resorted to chemical shells again during its offensives against the Shan State Army (SSA) South in 2001 and 2002, and against the Karennis in 2005.
According to KHRG, quoting Daily News, a Thai newspaper, the Burma Army had not rejected the accusations by the rebels.
Shortly after the fall of Kawmoorah, Lt Gen Tin Oo (Secretary 2 of State Law and Order Restoration Council) was in Thailand at the invitation of Thai Army Commander-in-Chief Wimol Wongwanich. Tin Oo’s contacts while in Thailand were primarily only with Thai military leaders. Just after his return to Burma, Thai journalists questioned Gen. Chettha Thanajaro, Assistant Army Chief of Staff of Thailand. In an article entitled “Burmese Admit They Used Chemicals to Fight Karens” on February 28th, the Thai-language Daily News paraphrased Gen. Chettha’s words as follows: “Concerning the Australian government’s protest over SLORC’s use of chemicals against the Karen, Tin Oo replied that they had to wipe out the thieves and rebels that are against the government. He said that although the use of chemical is not right, it is necessary."
The use of chemical weapons against the SSA South, KNU and Karenni (Kayah) took place along the border, so there were a lot of foreign researchers crossing the border to verify them. The use against the SSA North, on the other hand, had occurred in Tangyan, some 300 km inside Burma’s Shan State, where outsiders, both foreigners and natives alike, are all persona non grata there.
But, like the late Gen Tin Oo, let’s hope the present military leaders will be quite as frank and open about their use of the weapons.