Burma Police Say Karen Businessmen Plotted Bombings

By Lawi Weng 18 October 2013

RANGOON — Rangoon Division’s police chief says a group of ethnic Karen businessmen allegedly planned the recent string of bomb blasts in Burma to scare off foreign investors from their resource-rich Karen State.

The police have detained eight suspects following bomb blasts in several states and divisions over the past week, the police chief said on Friday.

“They [the eight suspects] were from a group of mining businessmen. We will also arrest more suspects,” Zaw Win told reporters at a press conference in Rangoon. “They intended to ward off foreign investors.”

Burma is emerging as an untapped market for foreign investment as it emerges from nearly half a century of military dictatorship. Ethnic states have attracted particular attention because they are rich in natural resources.

The police chief identified one detained bombing suspect as Nay Toe, who manages a mining project in Karen State. A group of Karen businessmen allegedly offered Nay Toe a permit for a gold mine if he successfully planted bombs at hotels and restaurants, the police chief said

He said another detainee, Saw Myint Lwin, reportedly served in the past with the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the armed wing of a Karen rebel group known as the Karen National Union (KNU). The police say the homemade bombs found in various states and divisions across the country were the same type that the KNU used in attacks against the government army over decades of civil war.

The KNU signed a ceasefire with the government last year, and a senior general from the KNLA insisted that the rebel group should not be linked to the bombings.

“We are staying in the jungle. We do not know anything about these bombings,” Gen Saw Johnny, commander-in-chief of the KNLA, told The Irrawaddy. “We don’t know who did it and we also do not have any evidence to provide. It is not our members who have done this.”

Three people were killed and at least 10 people have been wounded by bomb blasts in five states and divisions since late last week. The attacks garnered international attention on Monday when an American woman was injured by a bomb that went off in her hotel room at the high-end Traders Hotel in downtown Rangoon.

In northern Shan State, where a bomb blast on Thursday left one person dead, one person seriously wounded and five others slightly injured, a police investigation is ongoing, the police chief said.

Ye Htut, the deputy minister of information and a spokesman for President Thein Sein, said the KNU had agreed to help the government investigate the recent bomb blasts and search for more suspects.

“Our working peace process with the KNU has not been damaged because of the bomb blasts,” the presidential spokesman told reporters at the press conference. “Leaders of the KNU would have no desire to do this [plot the attacks].”