Burma Bombings Raise Questions—Who and Why?
By Aung Naing Oo Thursday, January 18, 2007


Earlier this week, a letter bomb, allegedly addressed to Burma’s police chief, exploded at a post office in the suburb of the former capital, Rangoon, injuring a postal worker. There are also reports that another bomb, which failed to explode, was discovered at Rangoon's General Post Office last week.


These were the latest bomb incidents to date in Burma, and the first this year. A radical student group, the Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors, claimed responsibility for the letter bomb.


A roadside bomb killed a garbage collector in a small town near Pegu, 70km north of Rangoon, o­n May 12, 2006. No o­ne claimed responsibility. Just a week before that fatal bomb, an explosion o­n a railway line near Burma’s new capital, Pyinmana, damaged a transformer and a fence. Again, no o­ne claimed responsibility.


However, the rail track explosion took place just a day after Burma’s ruling military junta, officially known as the State Peace and Development Council, or SPDC, blamed exiled dissident “terrorists” for a spate of bombings that had rattled the country in April. 


Unlike Iraq, where car bombs and suicide bombers have claimed thousands of lives, bomb blasts in Burma are normally o­n a smaller scale, resulting in fairly limited casualties. A notable exception was o­n May 7, 2005, when three bombs exploded simultaneously at three upscale shopping centers in Rangoon, claiming 23 lives and injuring more than 160 civilians.


But, despite their relatively small size, the latest blast in Rangoon adds to a tally of some 70 documented bombings since 1989. Worryingly, the problem appears to be worsening. While the May 2005 bombings were the biggest ever, last year saw the highest number of bombings incidents—17 separate bomb attacks. To date, approximately 80 people have been killed and more than 250 people injured since the first blasts were reported in 1989.


Patterns of bombings are often different and targets vary. But they have included railway lines, hotels, markets, shopping malls, power transformers, government facilities such as post offices and companies believed to be close to the junta. Bombs have also reportedly been discovered at Burmese embassies in Tokyo and Manila.


The reaction from Burma’s rulers to these bombings is predictably swift. The military quickly heaps blame o­n its external and internal political critics, and its armed ethnic opponents—almost always making these pronouncements before a proper investigation is launched, let alone come to any conclusion.


Yet, ironically, these bombings rarely target military installations or military personnel. o­nly twice have bombs hit direct military targets.

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