Friday, December 14, 2007

A Burmese Hanukkah

By Uzi Silber

Burma will for the foreseeable future remain tyrannized by billionaire generals for one reason: its bounty of natural resources. In order to keep this treasure to themselves, the generals must keep the country whole, which with respect to Burma is far from a simple proposition. The generals can rest secure in the support of the country's neighbors, which are both interested and worried: interested in uninterrupted access to Burma's commodities, and worried by its tinderbox of a population.

A closer look at what Burma is, what it has, and its potential fates, could make any would-be Burmese Maccabi yearn for the good old days of British rule. A vast, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual mosaic, Burma is dominated by Burmans, but is home to many other groups: Karens, Mon, Rachines, Tavoyans, Wa, Chins, and Shans. Most of these minorities inhabit sections of the country especially rich in resources.

The generals aren't going anywhere. According to the US Geological Survey, Burma has proven reserves of 3.2 billion barrels of crude and 2.46 trillion cubic meters of natural gas. At $90 per barrel of oil and $200 per thousand cubic meters of natural gas, Burma owns $288 billion worth of oil, and $460 billion in natural gas, or around $744 billion dollars in energy resources untapped. And the generals are expected to just walk away from all this?

Western governments made appropriate noises about supporting Burmese democracy. But many countries with business interests in Burma are wary of the potential fallout from a revolution there, especially in light of events in post-Tito Yugoslavia and Iraq après-Saddam.

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