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11/29/2023 Burma (International Christian Concern) — Congress delayed a decision on 2024 funding for Burma to next year, in a quiet decision made earlier this month. Short-term funding for the BURMA Act is expected, but decisions on longer-term funding will be put off along with funding for the rest of government spending.

In addition to greater questions of the U.S. budget, though, Congress disagrees internally on how best to approach funding humanitarian aid and democracy promotion in the war-torn Asian country, according to VOA news. The BURMA Act helped to create a framework for U.S. engagement, but questions remain on how best to support the various ethnic and pro-democracy political groups resisting the military dictatorship currently ruling in Naypyidaw.

Speaking to the critical support that the BURMA Act provides to these groups, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) praised it earlier this year for funding programs to “strengthen federalism in and among ethnic states in Burma, and for technical support and non-lethal assistance to Burma’s ethnic armed organizations and People’s Defense Forces to strengthen communication, command and control, and coordination of international relief and other operations between these entities.”

The BURMA Act also laid the groundwork for continued sanctions against top junta officials. Though it has been sanctioned in various forms for years, the Burmese military has had to deal with increased sanctions since its February 2021 coup and the later passage of the BURMA Act.

In October, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom launched new sanctions against the military junta, the latest in a years-long effort to exert pressure on the repressive regime. The sanctions were on the Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise, a main source of funding for the junta. Though the United States has sanctioned various leaders connected with the enterprise previously, this is the first direct sanction of the organization.

“The oil and gas industry are the biggest source of foreign-currency revenue to Myanmar’s murderous junta,” said the Guardian in an analysis of the recent sanctions, “bringing in $1.72bn in the six months to 31 March 2022 alone.”

The Burmese military has been able to survive economically thanks to political and economic support from Russia and China. Three Chinese Navy ships with 700 personnel visited Burma Monday, docking in Yangon, the country’s biggest city, in a show of support for the regime which has seen significant military setbacks in recent months.

An offensive, launched in October in Shan state, led to the capture of several towns and more than 100 military outposts by the militant groups. The fighting there is ongoing. In November, armed resistance groups in Myanmar’s western Chin and Rakhine states increased their attacks against Tatmadaw-held positions with some success.

Anti-junta militias have reduced the area under solid Tatmadaw control to as little as 17%, according to the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar.

Myanmar is a patchwork mosaic of ethnic and religious groups. Though a strong majority of the population is ethnic Burman, and an even greater percentage is Buddhist, the communities that make up the rest are well-established, well-organized, and for the most part predate the formation of the modern state by centuries.

In many cases, Myanmar’s ethnic minorities have taken on a distinct religious identity as well. About 20-30% of ethnic Karen are Christians, while other groups—such as the Chin—are over 90% Christian. This overlap of ethnic and religious identity has created a volatile situation for believers.

The Tatmadaw has a long history of violence against the people of Myanmar, including against ethnic and religious minorities like the Muslim-majority Rohingya and Christian-majority Chin. Soon after the 2021 coup, International Christian Concern (ICC) published a report detailing several of these minority groups and proposing actions that the international community can take to push back against the Tatmadaw.

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